German leaders set for prolonged haggling in showdown over chancellery |

German leaders set for prolonged haggling in showdown over chancellery

BERLIN – The nearly three-week battle of wills came down to a face-to-face meeting: Gerhard Schroeder and reform-minded challenger Angela Merkel sat down Thursday to negotiate who should be Germany’s next chancellor, amid signs their parties will join in a “grand coalition.”Merkel and her Christian Democrats pressed her demand to become the country’s first female leader ahead of her meeting with Schroeder, whose Social Democratic party clung to its competing claim that he should extend his seven years in the chancellery.Analysts and politicians predicted Schroeder’s camp would drive a hard bargain, demanding cabinet seats or even the parliamentary chairmanship if he should agree to step aside.The two sides have been forced to negotiate over a so-called “grand coalition” between Merkel’s and Schroeder’s parties – usually on opposite sides of the issues. They need each other because voters ousted Schroeder’s government of Social Democrats and Greens on Sept. 18, but also denied Merkel a majority for a center-right coalition.Schroeder and Merkel’s fellow conservative leader Edmund Stoiber were seen arriving at what officials said was to be the meeting site, a parliamentary clubhouse across from the Bundestag lower house, shortly before 7 p.m.The chancellor and Stoiber were seen leaving a little more than four hours later, but there was little evidence beyond that about the meeting.Officials provided no details and there were no public statements from the participants; officials said results might come only Sunday or Monday.The high stakes include no less than Germany’s frayed relations with the United States, a possible new direction for Germany’s leadership role in the European Union, and hopes for a way out of the doldrums that have vexed Europe’s largest economy.Merkel is regarded as more likely to get along with the White House, where relations with Schroeder remain merely businesslike after his vociferous opposition to the war in Iraq.She has indicated she would take Germany’s EU role in a different direction, with less emphasis on the German-French alliance that helped block a U.N. resolution supporting U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.She also hopes to stimulate the economy by simplifying taxes and making it easier and cheaper for small companies to fire people.Schroeder says his more limited economic fixes – tax and jobless benefit cuts – need time to work. He also argues he’s a stronger leader because he’s willing to stand up to Washington.But change of any kind remains on hold until Schroeder and Merkel can decide which of them will back down. If they reach a deal on who’s boss, both parties are to hold leadership meetings Monday that could endorse the beginning of formal talks on a power-sharing deal.”We believe that we will have results on Sunday evening that are firm,” Muentefering told reporters.He said his party was keeping its goal of governing “with Gerhard Schroeder at the helm” – although he appeared to suggest that was an aspiration rather than a demand.Merkel stuck firmly to her own demand that the Social Democrats recognize her right, as the leader of the largest group in parliament, to become Germany’s first female chancellor.”We have always said that, to start coalition negotiations, a further condition must be fulfilled – a basis of trust must be created,” Merkel told reporters. “This basis of trust can only be created if certain rules are respected.”She also insisted her conservative bloc should get the job of parliament president, which also traditionally goes to the strongest parliamentary group. Some have speculated Merkel might swap it to the Social Democrats in return for Schroeder’s going into retirement.Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and Stoiber’s Christian Social Union emerged from the election with 226 seats in the 614-seat lower house of parliament, four seats and some 400,000 votes ahead of the Social Democrats. A coalition needs 308 seats for a majority. Karl-Rudolf Korte, professor of political science at the University of Duisburg, said the Social Democrats were holding out for the best possible deal, up to and including an equal division of cabinet seats instead of the junior status usually reserved for the junior coalition partner.”They want the particularly important ministries, filled on the basis of parity,” Korte said, “the strongest ministries with which they can position themselves to have a chance at the next election to organize their own majority.”Vail, Colorado

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