October 18, 2017 / 10:07 AM / 4 months ago

German coalition talks: 'Road to Jamaica is long'

BERLIN (Reuters) - German politicians seeking to form a first of a kind coalition of conservatives, liberals and leftist environmentalists agreed on one thing after their first talks on Wednesday: it’s going to take a while.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) partners held separate talks first with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and later with the Greens.

Their party colours - black, yellow and green - match those of the Jamaican flag and have given name to the proposed coalition.

“If you look in the atlas, the road to Jamaica is long,” said CSU General Secretary Andreas Scheuer after his party and the CDU met with the Greens.

Setting the stage for tough talks that could take several months, politicians from all parties have set out their stall, narrowing room for compromise in areas from immigration to the European Union and environmental policy.

After the first two-hour meeting, general secretaries from the two conservative parties and the FDP emerged, smiling, to tell reporters the talks had been positive.

“It was a good exchange, at times nice and above all mutually respectful and joyful,” Scheuer said.

Separate talks between the conservatives and the Greens appeared to have been less joyful. Straight-faced representatives of the CDU, CSU and Greens told reporters the meeting had been positive but made clear that it would take a long time to nail down an agreement.

CDU General-Secretary Peter Tauber said both meetings, with the FDP and Greens, were “good.”

Merkel, whose conservatives bled support to the far right in the Sept. 24 election, warned her parliamentary party on Tuesday they would have to compromise.

The German Parliamentary Society offices (L), where the exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government between CDU/CSU and German Green Party are held, is seen next to the Reichstag building, in Berlin, Germany, October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Chancellor for 12 years and known as a skilled negotiator, she angered many voters over her open-door migrant policy and her conservatives saw their worst election result since 1949.

She has said she expects a government to be in place by Christmas, but others say January is more likely, pointing to a months-long policy standstill in Europe’s biggest economy.

GREENS TOUGHER

The prospect of a minority government or new election hangs over the talks, a scenario Merkel wants to avoid due to fears the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) could make bigger gains.

Slideshow (21 Images)

“It is totally conceivable that before Christmas or in January we say that the whole thing is pointless and we’ll talk to the Social Democrats (SPD),” Peter Ramsauer, a senior CSU member not on the negotiating team, told Deutschlandfunk radio.

The SPD, which suffered its worst result since 1933, has said it will go into opposition.

The parties recognise it will not be easy.

“The first steps on this path went well, in an objective, solution-oriented atmosphere,” said FDP General Secretary Nicola Beer. “We agreed that some of us might need to be creative to continue on this path in this way.”

The talks -- which will continue on Thursday and Friday -- focussed on building trust and agreeing a format for future talks rather than tackling hard policies.

One of which will be immigration.

Merkel, further weakened on Sunday by losses in a state election, has already had to give way to the CSU on immigration, effectively bowing to a demand to limit the number of people allowed into Germany.

That may be unacceptable to the Greens.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Joseph Nasr Additional reporting by Michelle Martin and Holger Hansen; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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