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German coalition parties vow to stay together but have "a lot to do"

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By Reuters
German coalition parties vow to stay together but have "a lot to do"
German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel addresses a joint news conference of coalition partners before signing a coalition deal in Berlin, Germany, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt   -   Copyright  AXEL SCHMIDT(Reuters)

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition partners said on Wednesday they would keep working together after welcoming a report which they said showed how much the government had achieved but also how much it still had to do.

The review of the government’s legislative achievements started a process that could ultimately end the loveless coalition as it will form the basis of a political assessment by both blocs on whether to carry on in government.

Merkel agreed to a ‘half-time review’ of the government’s work to help persuade the reluctant Social Democrats (SPD) to join her conservatives in a “grand coalition” in 2018.

But after sharing power for more than 1-1/2 years, the coalition has struggled to overcome divisions on issues from climate protection to fiscal and migrant policy, and has failed to agree on pension reforms sought by the SPD.

Despite the differences dogging the coalition, and the work that remains to be done by the government, Merkel said: “This report shows that we are capable of working together.”

Olaf Scholz, an aspiring SPD leader who is Deputy Chancellor and finance minister, echoed the comments by Merkel, who has said she will not seek a fifth term as chancellor in the next election, due in 2021.

“I welcome the report which shows what we have achieved… We still have a lot to do,” he said.

Many SPD members want their party to leave the coalition but support for both the conservative and centre-left blocs has slumped since the last election in 2017, making a new election an unwelcome option.

The future of the coalition depends largely on the SPD. A party conference in December will choose a new leader, after a ballot of members later this month, and is expected to decide whether to stay in or ditch the coalition.

The leadership contest pits pro-coalition Scholz, running on a ticket with little known politician from the former Communist East, against sceptic Norbert Walter-Borjans.

Politics professor Andrea Roemmele of the Hertie School of Governance told ARD television the coalition’s arguments undermined its achievements.

“This coalition gives the impression of a bickering married couple with divorce hanging in the air… at some point voters want to see compromise rather than continual strife,” she said.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Editing by Timothy Heritage)