Schroeder, Merckel move closer to power-sharing deal, agree to hold summit |

Schroeder, Merckel move closer to power-sharing deal, agree to hold summit

BERLIN – Germany’s two biggest political parties moved closer to sharing power Wednesday when Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and conservative challenger Angela Merkel agreed to hold a summit over which of them will lead the country.Neither Schroeder nor Merkel backed off their insistence on being chancellor, but they came out of a third round of preliminary talks between their parties smiling. Both indicated they had made progress in their search to build a new government to end Germany’s leadership crisis, set off when no party won a majority in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections.Schroeder said the sounding-out talks Wednesday had shown “there is a basis for a ‘grand coalition”‘ – a union of his left-of-center Social Democrats and Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.Schroeder said the summit would be held “very, very soon.” His economy minister, Wolfgang Clement, said it would likely be before the weekend. Officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information said it could take place Thursday evening.Party leaders say Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, needs a stable government quickly to tackle high unemployment and slow growth – and to support Germany’s role as the European Union’s largest member as the union faces debates over its budget, accession talks with Turkey and whether Romania and Bulgaria should enter on schedule.The government also faces thorny foreign policy issues such as negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and the state of relations with the United States, frayed by Schroeder’s opposition to the war in Iraq.Both Schroeder and Merkel seemed relaxed after their two-hour meeting – in contrast to the bruising exchanges immediately after the vote.Merkel, who would be Germany’s first female chancellor, said she was “more optimistic than pessimistic” after Wednesday’s talks, which she said had gone “very successfully.”Conservatives have insisted Schroeder party back off its claim to keep him as chancellor before entering talks on forming a coalition.The two parties have been forced toward a political marriage of convenience because voters ousted Schroeder’s seven-year government of Social Democrats and Greens but also denied the conservatives a majority. Attempts to recruit smaller parties to eke out a majority failed on both sides.Merkel says that she, as the leader of the strongest group in parliament, should be chancellor.Her Christian Democrat-Christian Social Union group won the most seats in parliament: 226 seats to 222 for Schroeder’s Social Democrats in the 614-seat Bundestag lower house, with 308 needed to form a government.”We have agreed that to clear up the question, particularly the personnel question, the workings of a government and possibly some questions on content, there will be another summit,” Merkel told reporters.The planned summit likely would involve Schroeder, Merkel, Schroeder’s Social Democratic chairman Franz Muentefering and Edmund Stoiber, head of the Christian Social Union.Business groups fear a left-right alliance would be so divided on policy that it could not attack chronic economic problems such as high unemployment, sluggish growth and budget deficits.But participants indicated they found some common ground on touchy domestic issues such as health care financing and controlling government spending.Schroeder said he hoped the parties could work together to tackle unemployment, increase investment in education and research, press forward with deregulation and shake up the relationship between the federal government and Germany’s 16 states.”Germany must be better positioned here than it was in the past. We can achieve that in such an arrangement,” he said, referring to a potential left-right coalition.Vail, Colorado

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