Merkel set for fourth term with SPD grand coalition

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives applause after addressing a Christian Democratic Union party congress in Berlin, Germany on February 26, 2018. Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) voted decisively for another coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives yesterday, clearing the way for a new government in Europe’s largest economy and ending months of political uncertainty.

Two thirds of the membership voted “yes” to the deal, a party official said – a wider margin than many had expected – meaning Ms Merkel could be sworn in for a fourth term by mid-March, in a repeat of the grand coalition that has governed since 2013.

The challenges are piling up for Ms Merkel, who has been acting chancellor for more than five months since an inconclusive election, with Europe looking to its largest country for leadership on a host of economic and security issues.

Addressing party activists lining the balconies around the atrium of the party’s Berlin headquarters yesterday morning, acting SPD leader Olaf Scholz said: “We now have clarity: the SPD will join the next German government.”

Ms Merkel took to her party’s Twitter feed to congratulate the SPD. “I look forward to working with the SPD again for the good of our country,” she said.

European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici congratulated the SPD for “their responsible and decisive vote” on Twitter and said Germany is now “ready to engage for a stronger Europe”.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire wrote on Twitter that he had spoken to Scholz and acting finance minister Peter Altmaier by telephone yesterday morning to discuss giving the euro zone new impetus after the SPD’s vote, adding: “Resolved to work closely together!”

The outcome means the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) will be the largest parliamentary opposition party. In a tweet, they labeled the SPD’s decision a “catastrophe” for Germany, promising fierce opposition over the coming four years.

German business greeted with relief the news that Germany would get a government after its longest-ever post-election interregnum.

“While the United States are starting a trade war and China is challenge our industrial leadership, we have been unnecessarily self-absorbed,” engineering trade union VDMA’s managing director Thilo Brodtmann said.

The SPD was forced to revisit its original plan to go into opposition after the failure of Ms Merkel’s initial attempt to form a coalition with two smaller parties.

With her conservatives, they thrashed out a coalition agreement which SPD leaders hailed for its commitments to strengthening the EU and giving them key government roles.

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