GERMANY IN FIX OVER ITâ€™S CHANCELLOR
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) and conservatives led by Angela Merkel failed to break their deadlock on who would be chancellor in a possible coalition during a third round of exploratory talks on Wednesday.
Merkel said leaders from both sides would meet "soon" in an attempt to resolve the matter. The SPD has so far insisted that a decision be made in the course of formal coalition talks.
The conservative alliance of Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), their Bavaria-based associate party, have demanded that the SPD accept Merkel as chancellor before negotiations begin.
In inconclusive parliamentary elections on September 18, the CDU/CSU won 225 seats compared to 222 for the SPD. The CDU/CSU picked up another seat in a by-election in Dresden on Sunday.
The two sides, unable to form coalitions with minor parties that would bring a parliamentary majority, have held two rounds of exploratory talks on a possible 'grand coalition' between them.
On Monday, Schroeder had signalled a willingness to step aside to make way for "a stable government", saying it was up to his party's leaders to decide. But SPD leaders said afterward that they had urged him to stay on in a bid to strengthen the party's hand in negotiations with the CDU/CSU.
The SPD has argued that despite having won fewer parliamentary seats than the CDU/CSU, it remains the country's strongest party and would therefore deal "eye to eye" with the conservatives. It has governed together with Germany's Greens since 1998.
A leading member of the CDU/CSU's parliamentary group, Norbert Roettgen, told German radio Wednesday that the SPD must respect the rules of a parliamentary democracy and accept the CDU/CSU's choice as chancellor.
"The voters have decided who has the most seats," he said. "You can't negotiate that away, as the SPD wants to do," Roettgen said.
Germany's main political parties have until the middle of the month to reach agreement on a new coalition government for Europe's biggest economy. The German parliament is scheduled to vote on the new chancellor on October 18.
The key themes at Wednesday's talks are expected to include the labour market, the state of the nation's lumbering social welfare system and public finances.
Meanwhile, an opinion poll published Wednesday showed more support for Merkel in her tug-of-war with Schroeder. A total of 34 per cent of the respondents in the poll, commissioned by the German television news station n-tv, backed Merkel as chancellor, 5 per cent more than a week ago.
Schroeder received 26 per cent, down from 28 per cent. A total of 22 per cent favoured other candidates.