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German FDP leader presses Greens to compromise on immigration

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Greens need to compromise on immigration policy if talks on forming a new governing coalition are to succeed, the leader of the Free Democrats (FDP) said, putting the chances of a deal at 50-50.

Chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) Christian Lindner, leader of the German Green Party Katrin Goering-Eckardt, federal state premier of Hessen Volker Bouffier and leader of the German Green Party Cem Ozdemir seen on a balcony of German Parliamentary Society offices during the exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government held by CDU/CSU in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to form a coalition with the FDP and Greens after her conservatives lost support to the far right in a federal election last month. The three-way alliance is untested at national level.

“I still see the biggest differences with the Greens,” FDP leader Christian Lindner said of immigration policy in an interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper.

“Germany is at the limit of what the majority are ready to provide in humanitarian aid,” he said, adding that “realism cannot be sacrificed in a readiness for coalition.”

The three parties found common ground in areas of social policy and digital infrastructure during talks on Monday, but remained far apart on issues of immigration, fiscal and climate policies that divided them last week.

Lindner said the Greens did not represent the majority of Germans on the issue of family reunification - allowing foreigners to join loved ones granted asylum in Germany. That is one of the most contentious issues in the coalition talks.

All the parties are eager to show the public they are taking measures to prevent a repeat of 2015, when Merkel’s decision to welcome people fleeing wars and persecution led to the largest influx of asylum seekers in the post-war years.

But the Greens may not accept a conservative plan to suspend the right to family reunions for asylum seekers who have only been granted so-called subsidiary protection, starting in March 2018. The Greens say that would hamper integration.

Those given subsidiary protection are given one-year visas that can be renewed, because it is deemed their home country is not safe. But they do not have full refugee status that would give them the right to stay.

“In the first phase, we haven’t come close to solutions to conflicts,” Lindner said of the exploratory talks on a “Jamaica” coalition, so called because the parties’ colors match those of the Jamaican national flag. “Therefore, I still see the chances for Jamaica at 50-50.”

European reform is another area of contention between the three party groups.

The FDP welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron’s push for European integration and would like more security cooperation, Lindner said, but he resisted closer budget and fiscal ties.

“We would like to facilitate investment in the euro area. If there is a lack of money for that, we can talk. But joint liability, common risks - whether for national debt or deposits at our savings banks, cooperative banks or private banks - there is no room for maneuver there for the FDP,” he said.

Writing by Paul Carrel, editing by Larry King