Berlin – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats sealed a deal on Wednesday on a new coalition, officials close to the talks said, potentially ending four months of political standstill in Europe’s top economy.
The sources told AFP the parties had ironed out their final differences and were ready to sign an agreement for Merkel’s fourth term.
Public broadcaster ARD said the final disputes had centred around “ministry remits and personnel questions”.
The breakthrough will come as a relief to Germany’s EU partners as the bloc faces tough negotiations on migration and Brexit.
Merkel, Europe’s most experienced leader, has seen her standing at home and abroad weakened by the longest stretch of coalition-building in the country’s post-war history.
But before she can be sworn in, a final hurdle looms: The hard-fought pact between her CDU/CSU bloc and the Social Democratic Party must still be approved by the SPD’s sceptical rank-and-file .
The agreement for a renewed “grand coalition” comes after days of marathon talks in which negotiators from all three parties haggled over everything from foreign policy to labour issues and healthcare.
Germany has been stuck in political limbo since September’s inconclusive general election saw mainstream parties bleed support to the far-right AfD, which tapped into anger over Merkel’s liberal refugee policy.
Merkel, in power for over 12 years, at first tried to cobble together a novel three-way coalition with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, but those efforts collapsed in November.
Faced with snap elections that could further boost the AfD or the prospect of heading an unstable minority government, she opted to woo back the SPD – her junior partner for two of her three terms since 2005.
SPD leader Martin Schulz then abandoned his post-election vow to renew the party in opposition – a U-turn that angered many.
Merkel’s fate now lies in the hands of the SPD, as Schulz has promised to give his party’s 460 000 members the final say on whether to accept the coalition pact.
Observers expect the referendum to be tight, with the SPD’s left and youth wings fiercely opposed to another four years governing in Merkel’s shadow.
The party’s fiery youth chief Kevin Kuehnert has led a campaign against another “GroKo”, as the grand coalition is known.
The referendum will be held by postal ballot, with the result expected to be announced in early March.
A green light could see a new Merkel-led government in place by the end of next month.
A thumbs-down could spell disaster for Merkel and Schulz, whose political lives hang in the balance, and see the country headed for fresh elections.