By Andreas Rinke
BERLIN (Reuters) - Immigration and climate policy are the most contentious issues in exploratory negotiations between three parties seeking to form Germany's next government, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday, adding that she wants proper talks to start in 10 days.
Despite weeks of exploratory discussion, Merkel's conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens remain far apart on climate, immigration and energy policy, and they disagree on where the blame lies for the lack of progress.
"For me it is clear that on the subject of finances the question is how we can use the room for manoeuvre (in the budget) so that everybody can have their priorities implemented while at the same time ensure that we have a balanced budget," Merkel said in a video message on Facebook.
"On the subject of climate protection, challenging goals for 2020 that we undertook as federal government under my leadership are not so simple to meet," she added, shortly before a meeting with other party leaders to try to nudge the talks forward.
"The theme that is especially important for us is the issue of immigration and integration," she said. "These will be difficult issues."
Party leaders are hoping for a sharper focus on policy detail to reinvigorate negotiations that have barely inched forward since a national election in September.
Merkel said she wanted the exploratory talks to end on Nov. 14 after which the parties can launch proper negotiations that can conclude with a coalition agreement.
The FDP and Greens blame each other for the lack of real progress.
"By dragging their foot on climate protection, the FDP are playing into the hands of climate change deniers like (U.S. President Donald) Trump," Greens party chair Simone Peter told a news conference. "The lack of seriousness has to stop."
But Greens co-leader Cem Oezdemir signalled in an interview with the Stuttgarter Zeitung that the ecologist party would be ready to relent on its insistence that the next government commit to removing all combustion engines from roads by 2030.
"It's clear to me that we alone would not be able to insist that 2030 will be the year when combustion engines are no longer," he said. The Greens wanted instead a "clear commitment" that the cars of the future are emissions-free, he added.
FDP leader Christian Lindner said the hard work of finding common ground was only now beginning.
"There haven't been attempts to build bridges in the past two weeks because that wasn't the purpose," he said. "We look forward in this phase to moving from outlines to the facts and goals that need to be harmonised - or not, as the case may be."
Senior Greens complain that talks have been hamstrung by the FDP's lack of preparedness. After a four-year absence from the federal parliament, the FDP lacks the policy expertise needed to negotiate the compromises that are needed, Green officials say.
But Lindner said he opposed the Greens' desire to "make an example of industrial Germany" by forcing it to meet expensive and constraining climate protection targets, and he suggested Germany could have a greater impact on the climate by helping other countries to improve their emissions record.
For Merkel, the awkward three-way negotiations, forced on her after her conservative bloc shed votes in the election, represents her best chance of securing a fourth term in office, with many believing failure would oblige her to stand aside.
With her former coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), determined to go into opposition after a disastrous election, Germany could face a lengthy period of drift at a time when many in Europe look to Berlin for leadership on issues ranging from euro zone governance to trans-Atlantic ties.
(Additional by Michael Nienaber and Hans-Edzard Busemann; Writing by Joseph Nasr and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Richard Balmforth)