Merkel's CDU votes on German coalition deal after new cabinet picks

  • Five months after vote, Merkel edges towards fourth term
  • Coalition deal agreed between conservative, SPD leaders
  • SPD still voting on coalition deal, result unclear
  • Merkel's picks for new cabinet include arch critic

BERLIN: Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU) meet on Monday to approve a coalition deal with the Social Democrats (SPD), a move that will take their leader Angela Merkel a step closer to a fourth term as chancellor of Europe's biggest economy.

The last major hurdle to end a five-month political impasse comes next week, however. On March 4, the results of a postal vote by members of the centre-left SPD will be announced - and that result is far less certain.

The CDU conference follows Merkel's announcement of her picks for a new, younger cabinet intended to revive the party, which has been riven by disagreements over how to respond to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) since losing votes to the far right party in national elections in September.

Merkel is to address CDU delegates at the meeting before the vote on the deal, which is expected to go through easily, as a poll showed support for both her conservative bloc - which also includes the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) - and the SPD rising.

The conference will also vote on the appointment as CDU general secretary of her close ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, widely seen as her preferred successor. Dubbed "mini-Merkel" by some media, the Saarland state premier, 55, shares some but not all of Merkel's views.

Her Catholic, western German background contrasts with Merkel's Protestant, eastern roots. While socially conservative and known for opposing gay marriage, Kramp-Karrenbauer is a strong supporter of the minimum wage and workers' rights.

After 12 years as chancellor and almost 18 years in charge of her party, Merkel's authority is waning and on Sunday, she responded to growing calls for new blood at the top of the CDU.

In a bid to silence the faction within the party that wants the CDU to shift to the right to win back voters from the AfD, Merkel said she would promote her most outspoken critic, 37-year-old Jens Spahn, to the cabinet.

She said she had carefully chosen a younger team that could bring energy to the job and revive the party's fortunes.

After her conservative bloc scored its worst result since 1949 in last year's election, her efforts to forge a coalition with two other smaller parties collapsed in November.

This forced her to woo the SPD, a coalition partner in her 2013-2017 government but reluctant to repeat the experience, which had seen its own support fall to its lowest since World War Two.

If SPD members vote "no" in their ballot, the most likely outcome is a new election or possibly a minority government.

Some analysts say the prospect of a new election will spur SPD members into voting "yes", to prevent further deterioration in the party's support.

A Forsa poll on Monday showed the SPD up two points from a week ago, at 18 percent, while Merkel's conservatives edged up one point to 35 percent. The AfD remained the third-strongest party with 13 percent.

Forsa researcher Manfred Guellner said the grumbling in both camps had waned after Merkel's named Kramp-Karrenbauer as party general secretary and former SPD leader Martin Schulz decided against joining a Merkel-led cabinet as foreign minister.