UPDATES WITH DETAILS ON TURKEY POLICY OF NEW GRAND COALITION, SPD’S MINI-REFERENDUM; EDITS THROUGHOUT
By Ayhan Simsek
BERLIN (AA) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats reached an agreement on Wednesday to form a new “grand coalition” government after a 136-day post-election stalemate.
Speaking at a joint press conference with party leaders, after a marathon 24 hours of talks, Merkel said they managed to pave the way for a coalition government that would address citizens’ real needs and problems.
“I am convinced that this coalition agreement would lay the groundwork for a good and stable coalition government our country requires,” she stressed.
As part of the compromise, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had to give up key ministerial posts, such as the interior and finance ministries.
The CDU’s Bavarian ally the Christian Social Union (CSU) secured four ministries, including interior.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD), which had been reluctant to enter a new coalition with conservatives, gained six ministerial posts, including the foreign, justice, finance, and labor ministries.
Local media reported that SPD leader Martin Schulz was the likely pick of his party for the foreign ministry post.
Schulz stressed on Wednesday that the new grand coalition government would focus on strengthening the European Union.
“Germany would again assume an active and leading role within the EU,” he told the press conference.
-Turkey: Important partner, but progress needed
In their coalition government contract, Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc and SPD underlined their desire for "good relations" with Turkey.
“Turkey is an important partner of Germany and EU’s neighbor, with which we have multifaceted relations. Therefore, having good relations with Turkey is of special interest for us,” the document said.
Despite their campaign promise to terminate Turkey’s EU membership process, the parties' coalition agreement avoided any radical proposals.
But they stressed that no new chapter would be opened in Turkey’s EU membership talks unless Ankara achieves progress in addressing EU criticisms on issues such as democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
The coalition document argued that Ankara’s expectations for an updated EU-Turkey Customs Union and visa-free travel to Europe would depend on Ankara’s steps to meet its obligations.
- SPD’s mini-referendum
The new coalition deal is still subject to approval from the SPD’s around 460,000 members.
A postal ballot of SPD members will begin on Feb. 20 and end on March 2.
The results will be announced on March 4, according to party officials.
The SPD’s traditional left-wing youth organization, Jusos, have opposed a coalition government with the Christian Democrats, and called for reform within the party.
Last September, the Social Democrats suffered their worst election result in decades, but remained the second-largest party in parliament.
Many Social Democrats have blamed their poor showing on the party's membership in the previous “grand coalition.”