December 22, 2017 / 11:17 AM / in 9 months

Merkel's conservatives hope to win over SPD with offers on health and jobs

BERLIN, Dec 22 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives hope to draw the SPD into coalition with offers on healthcare, employment and broadband expansion, her chancellery chief said on Friday.

Merkel needs the the Social Democrats to agree to a re-run of the current “grand coalition” if she is to serve a fourth term. The SPD had previously said it intended to go into opposition after suffering its worst election result in more than eight decades in September.

Peter Altmaier, acting finance minister and Merkel’s right hand, told Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper he thought such an alliance was possible and had proven successful from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2013 to 2017.

Asked what offers the conservatives would make, Altmaier said: “We’ll of course talk with the SPD about problems in hospitals and nursing care, improvements for families and children, broadband expansion, qualification for new jobs and how we can reach full employment.”

There is overlap with the SPD on these areas, he said, adding that helping Germany’s 900,000 long-term unemployed needed to be a key project - an idea likely to go down well with the SPD.

The SPD wants to scrap Germany’s dual healthcare system of superior private care and more widely accessible public care to replace it with a single “citizen’s insurance”. The conservatives fear that would harm competition.

Germany’s two biggest parties are set to start exploratory talks in January on whether to join forces for the next four years in government. They hope to decide by Jan. 12 whether to open full-blown coalition talks.

While the conservatives have made clear they are keen to govern again in such a coalition, the SPD has kept the option of tolerating a minority Merkel-led government on the table, though Merkel rejects that idea.

The conservatives want a coalition treaty to include a pledge not to raise taxes or increase debt but will not draw any red lines ahead of the talks, Altmaier said. The SPD tends to advocate more spending and investment.

Senior SPD member and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Funke newspaper consortium that some of his party colleagues favoured a toleration set-up, but he worried about the implications for Europe’s stability.

“I’m rather sceptical,” he said. “A shaky government in Germany would probably lead to an earthquake in Europe - but we need to talk about it.” (Reporting by Michelle Martin; editing by Andrew Roche)

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