German politicians from parliament's two main parties are in the final stages of establishing a "grand coalition" government. Another set of late-night talks are expected, along with a raft of unresolved issues.
Key coalition negotiators from the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats met on Tuesday, and were again likely to stay in talks behind closed doors until late into the night.
The penultimate round of talks, at least according to the current schedule, ended at roughly 1 a.m. local time (0000 UTC) in Berlin on Tuesday. When asked whether the important issues were cleared up and the talks were finished, Social Democrat chairman Sigmar Gabriel joked: "We're the ones who are finished!" His party colleague Andrea Nahles offered only the word "sleep," when asked what would come next.
Senior Christian Democrats at the overnight talks left directly without comment.
The first draft of an eight-chapter contract that would form the basis of a coalition deal between Germany's two largest, and ideologically opposed, parties is currently 177 pages long. It was leaked to the press ahead of the final push at the negotiating table. The word "strittig" ("contentious" or "disputed") appears 24 times, while brackets containing counter proposals, objections and other notes can be found on most pages. It's perhaps also noteworthy that no preamble or introduction summarizing the coalition deal has yet been penned.
The news agency DPA wrote of a "battle of the brackets" in a feature story on the talks, while the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper ran the headline "brackets and question marks everywhere."
'They both want an agreement'
Some clear positions have appeared in the course of prior negotiations: The Christian Democrats, and especially their Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party, reject any tax increases. The Social Democrats, meanwhile, look likely to secure the minimum wage they campaigned for - although it's not clear whether it would be immediately implemented nationwide, for fear of hurting employment figures in less wealthy areas like the former East Germany.
The division of the 14 ministries was to be decided on the final day in just a three-person discussion, bringing together Angela Merkel, CSU leader Horst Seehofer and Social Democrat Gabriel.
Another CSU official, Alexander Dobrindt, warned late on Monday that the coalition talks might run beyond their stated timetable. DW's political correspondent John Berwick said he still expected a timely deal, because both parties ultimately wanted to set up a grand coalition together.
"They'll probably go into the night," Berwick said of the final day of talks. "There's almost a tradition of doing that in Germany in coalition talks. But they want an agreement and I think that they will reach one."
The Social Democrats unusually promised their party members a vote on any coalition deal reached, meaning that the politicians could theoretically come to a deal that's rejected at grass roots. Social Democrat party whip Thomas Oppermann was optimistic on this matter on Monday, saying he rated the chances of approval in the vote at "90 to 10."
msh/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)