Upcoming German new gov't a strong boost to European Union: policy paper

Merkel strikes preliminary deal to hold power in German coalition

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats pledged today to work closely with France to strengthen the euro zone, in Berlin's first substantive response to President Emmanuel Macron's ambitious European Union reform proposals.

The SPD has scheduled a special national conference on January 21 in Bonn, where party members will vote whether to join the formal grand coalition talks.

There were also compromises on tax and employer-funded health insurance, and a plan to push for greater financial European Union integration.

While the main issues were refugees, climate goals, social security, and the relationship with Europe, taxes and the ability to pay for new programs appear to have been the sticking point overnight.

SPD Chairman Martin Schulz was addressing those members when, standing alongside Merkel, he told reporters that the outline deal would preserve and strengthen Germany's welfare state for future generations.

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The terms of the deal are more favourable to the European project than previous attempts for a German coalition government did at the end of a year ago, Macron said, adding that he was happy to find in the deal echoes of his own proposals.

After the parties cleared obstacles on immigration and taxes, Merkel said she was "optimistic" they could seal a deal on a "stable" right-left "grand coalition" government.

Horst Seehofer, head of the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats, said a government could be in place by Easter - March or April. Still, a ballot of his party's entire membership is required to bless the coalition agreement.

Merkel defended the deal, saying it sets the stage for ensuring Germany's prosperity for the next 10 to 15 years and for the "relaunch of Europe" in partnership with France. "I am already speaking of these years because I believe we will succeed".

The talks follow a shock general election last September that failed to return a majority, leaving the Christian Democratic Union and Social Democrats with reduced vote shares and Germany without a government.

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The euro jumped to a three-year high against the U.S. dollar after the deal was announced, reflecting the relief of analysts and the perceived importance of German leadership to the European economy.

The conservatives also performed poorly in the election, and the three coalition parties' support dropped by a total of almost 14 percentage points.

Germany, the EU's biggest economy, supports the ambitious reform drive of French President Emmanuel Macron and the European Commission but stays vague on some of the details.

Merkel now leads a caretaker government, limiting her ability to take major policy initiatives as French President Emmanuel Macron pushes an ambitious European reform agenda. "The coalition document is a new start for Europe".

Following a dismal result in Germany's Sept 24 election, the Social Democrats initially vowed not to enter another government with Merkel's conservatives, but they reconsidered their position after the long-time chancellor's attempts to form a coalition with two smaller parties collapsed.

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Mrs Merkel said: "We have felt since the elections that the world will not wait for us, and in particular regarding Europe we are convinced we need a new call for Europe". "But we carried out the talks in spirit of finding a solution".

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