* Merkel ready to cede on wages, SPD drops tax demands
* Industry worried about economy, SPD voters sceptical
By Stephen Brown
BERLIN, Nov 17 Angela Merkel's conservatives and
Germany's Social Democrats have forged a political marriage
before and know each other's ways, but as a new "big day"
approaches, they are having to work hard to convince sceptical
party members and the business world that they should give it
Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bavarian allies were
the clear winners in September's election, taking 41.5 percent
of the vote, but their former liberal partners in government
lost all their seats, so the centre-right still needs to form a
coalition with the humiliated centre-left.
After three weeks of negotiations on policy details,
coalition talks enter the "hot phase" this week, and the
knottiest problems must be resolved in a final session on Nov.
26 for the chancellor to have a new government by Christmas.
Both sides are making big concessions, but the conservatives
want their landslide election victory reflected in the deal and
the subsequent division of cabinet posts. Two conservatives
spoke this weekend of "not letting the tail wag the dog".
The SPD had its second-worst result of the post-war era,
appealing to just 25.7 percent of voters, but doesn't want to
look like Merkel's doormat.
"Forty percent of voters chose the conservatives' platform.
Support for the SPD's ideas was much lower. This simple fact has
to be reflected in the 'grand coalition' programme," Finance
Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Bild newspaper in a preview of
From the sidelines, the industrial sector frets about the
coalition undermining Europe's biggest economy.
Four big car manufacturers - Volkswagen, BMW
, Daimler and GM's Opel - wheeled out
their bosses for a joint newspaper interview on Sunday to warn,
in the words of Daimler's Dieter Zetsche, that "if conditions in
Germany deteriorate, we'll have to think about moving production
That will worry Merkel, known as the "auto chancellor" for
her links to the sector, and SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel, whose
party is close to the trade unions. Neither wants to put at risk
the high employment rate and solid economic recovery.
After Gabriel told a party congress in Leipzig he wanted to
"strengthen the economic competence" of the SPD, CDU Secretary
General Hermann Groehe said this should mean "the coalition
parties can work together to avoid putting German jobs at risk".
TIME TO DELIVER
If the devil is in the detail, he will make himself at home
in a draft coalition document up to 160 pages long, the product
of 12 working groups. SPD delegates in Leipzig will be ploughing
through it before deciding how to vote in a ballot of 470,000
party members due by early December.
In theory, a "no" from SPD members could hijack the whole
process, which would likely result in a new election.
But the leadership of both camps, while talking tough,
signalled that a deal would be reached by Nov. 26.
"If everything is in the coalition treaty, then, damn it, we
should be in no doubt about the SPD signing it and enabling a
majority," said Gabriel on Saturday. "Now you have to deliver,
The SPD have dropped one of their main election positions -
higher taxes on the rich - but dug in their heels for a blanket
minimum legal wage of 8.50 euros an hour. Merkel - and most
business leaders - would rather have wage floors established
sector by sector, by employers and workers rather than Berlin.
But she signalled at a rally on Friday that she was ready to
cede on wages and also meet the SPD halfway on its demand to
grant dual citizenship for non-European Union residents, a big
issue for Germany's large Turkish community.
"If you put down red lines on every single point, you can't
carry out coalition talks," said the pragmatic Merkel, who has
moved her party further left in eight years in power, dropping
conservative credos like nuclear power and military service.
Political scientist Everhard Holtmann sees a "window of
opportunity for the grand coalition since the chancellor made it
clear the conservatives are ready to make concessions on issues
like the minimum wage and possibly also dual citizenship".
The final 10 days of talks are still expected to be tense;
conservative parliamentary leader Volker Kauder predicted "the
major points of conflict will be decided in the last two days".
He portrayed the negotiations so far as a victory for the
Merkel camp, telling a Sunday paper that campaign commitments to
block tax hikes, new debts or crisis tools making Germany liable
for other euro zone states' finances had prevailed.
Gabriel's talk of opening up to future alliances with the
hardline Left Party, which has been ostracised for decades, was
described as unhelpful by conservatives, but Holtmann saw it as
a sop to SPD left-wingers opposed to another grand coalition.
With major differences between the SPD and Left on foreign
policy especially - the Left opposes NATO membership, overseas
military operations and weapons exports - he said the
alternative of the SPD, Left and Greens using their slim
numerical majority in the Bundestag to get rid of Merkel
remained "totally unrealistic".