| MESEBERG, Germany
MESEBERG, Germany Jan 23 Conservative
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her centre-left partners tried to
allay concerns about a rocky start to their month-old coalition
on Thursday, saying they had a clear road map ahead after two
days of talks north of Berlin.
Speaking at a news conference at the end of the two-day
meeting, Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel, her vice chancellor from the
Social Democrats (SPD), pledged to work closely together on
contentious issues like energy policy and pension reforms.
"We've now got a clear plan for the work ahead of us,"
Merkel said, adding she was encouraged by the "harmonious"
atmosphere at the rural retreat, held at the snow-covered
Meseberg palace 60 km (38 miles) north of Berlin.
Merkel, starting her third term, effusively praised Gabriel
and SPD Labour Minister Andrea Nahles, whose plans on pension
reform and a national minimum wage have drawn fire from
conservatives in Merkel's camp.
Merkel went out of her way to endorse energy law reforms
from Gabriel that will squeeze industry and operators of new
"Every project put forth by every minister is a project of
the entire government," the chancellor, on crutches after a
cross-country skiing accident in December, said at the start of
In a poll by the Emnid institute published earlier this
month, 46 percent of Germans said the "grand coalition"
government, formed after a bitter election in September and
three months of coalition wrangling, had got off on the wrong
foot. Only 17 percent believed the right-left government had got
a good start.
The ink on the agreement between Germany's two biggest
political blocs had barely dried in December when the
arch-conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), Merkel's
Bavarian allies, began challenging the details of who would
benefit from the introduction of a minimum wage.
The CSU has also clashed repeatedly with Merkel's Christian
Democrats (CDU) and the SPD over the Bavarians' divisive demands
to introduce a national motorway toll on cars.
The SPD Justice Minister Heiko Maas surprised conservatives
by saying he would defy a coalition agreement to introduce
legislation for controversial anti-terror measures to keep and
store the phone and Internet data of private citizens.
The SPD Family Minister Manuela Schwesig also angered Merkel
in early January with plans to cut the working week for parents
of small children to 32 hours with no reduction in pay. She was
publicly slapped down for that.
There has also been plenty of dissent about Nahles's plans
to make it easier for people to retire at the age of 63 if they
have worked for 45 years, even if they had been unemployed for
up to five years during their working careers.
At Thursday's news conference, the SPD's Gabriel stressed
that the two sides were pulling in the same direction despite a
"We've got a joint government now," said Gabriel, the SPD's
likely candidate for the next election in 2017.
"Despite our differences, we've all got a road map now," he
said. "We've had an excellent start."
(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Stephen Brown and Sonya