German parties in coalition talks haggle over labor rights

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 02, 2018 8:20 AM

By Markus Wacket

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) were haggling on Friday over labor rights after securing a flurry of agreements on less contentious issues in their talks on forming a new coalition government.

The two camps aim to finalize a deal for four more years of a "grand coalition" by the end of the weekend or early next week, some four months after an inconclusive national election plunged Germany into unaccustomed political uncertainty.

The parties have agreed to some eye-catching measures, including a 50 percent tax write-down for fleet electric cars and a 12 billion euro public investment program to improve sluggish data networks, documents seen by Reuters showed.

But in the field of labor rights, where the beleaguered SPD wants to signal to its members that it has set its distinctive stamp on the deal, long lines of text highlighted in yellow showed that the parties had still reached no consensus.

The SPD wants to secure a right for employees in larger companies to move seamlessly back and forth between full- and part-time work if they have to care for children or elderly parents. The conservatives, and much of German business, oppose what they see as a costly measure.

The center-left SPD has sagged even further in opinion polls since suffering its worst result of the postwar era in the Sept. 24 election.

Many SPD activists, who must ratify any coalition deal in a postal ballot, would prefer to see their party reinvent itself in opposition rather than join another coalition with Merkel after serving as junior partner in one from 2013 to 2017.

For Merkel, another loveless 'grand coalition' is her best chance of securing a fourth term after the failure of earlier talks with two smaller parties late last year.

Her conservative bloc and the SPD have already agreed terms in other areas. Germany's booming economy has allowed them to agree an extra 11 billion euros for education, and compromise deals have been reached on migration and healthcare policy.

Some of the accords are noticeably less ambitious than those reached in the previous talks with the two smaller parties. Then, negotiators agreed to spend 20 billion euros over a longer period on building a better national broadband network. Privatizations are also now off the agenda.

(Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Gareth Jones)