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Let's give Merkel coalition a chance, says incoming German SPD boss

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By Reuters
Let's give Merkel coalition a chance, says incoming German SPD boss
Delegates, including candidates for leadership Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, vote during a party congress of the SPD in Berlin, Germany, December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Benschc   -   Copyright  FABRIZIO BENSCH(Reuters)
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BERLIN (Reuters) – The incoming leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) said on Friday she was sceptical that their ruling coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives would survive but she was ready to give it a chance.

SPD members last Saturday chose two critics of the coalition with Merkel to co-head their party after months of turmoil and dismal performances in regional and European elections. Many party members want to quit government and rebuild in opposition.

At a party conference on Friday, delegates are expected to vote on demands it will put to Merkel’s conservatives to stay in government, including tougher climate protection measures, an increase in the minimum wage and investment in infrastructure.

“I was and I am sceptical about the future of this grand coalition. But with this resolution, we give the coalition a realistic chance of continuing – not more, not less,” new SPD co-leader Saskia Esken told delegates.

Earlier, she had said the conference would send out a signal for a new start.

The conservatives have said they will not renegotiate the 2018 coalition deal but the relatively modest demands set out by the SPD’s new leaders appear to avoid a direct confrontation with Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc.

Ditching the coalition could trigger a snap election or minority government – unsavoury options for both ruling parties and for many stability-loving Germans. Merkel, who has led Europe’s biggest economy for the last 14 years, has said she will not run for a fifth term.

The new leaders face a huge task. An Infratest dimap poll on Thursday put the SPD on 13%, only just off record lows and trailing the conservatives, environmentalist Greens and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Delegates are also expected to ratify Esken, a lawmaker in the Bundestag lower house, and Norbert Walter-Borjans, a former regional finance minister, as their new joint leaders.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Paul Carrel and Holger Hansen; Editing by Mark Heinrich)