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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that she is prepared to accept demands for a national minimum wage as part of a coalition deal that would give her a third term in office.
Merkel had opposed the center-left Social Democrats' call for an 8.50 euros ($11.50) hourly minimum wage in the run-up to the September election. Despite a clear victory at the ballot box, her conservative Union bloc lacks enough seats in parliament to form a government on its own, forcing her into lengthy negotiations for a "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats.
"I too will have to agree to things that I personally didn't think right," Merkel told a meeting of business leaders in Berlin. "This includes for example the issue of a legally binding national minimum wage."
An influential panel of government advisers warned last week that replacing Germany's patchwork of regional and sector-specific minimum wage deals could cause job losses in Europe's biggest economy. Merkel, who has been leading a caretaker government for the past two months, said she would seek to prevent this.
"But a realistic view of the situation quickly shows that the Social Democrats won't leave such negotiations without a legally binding national minimum wage," she said at the event organized by Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Merkel called the formation of a new government "a responsibility" she felt obliged to meet.
Experts say the move clears a major hurdle that would allow the Social Democratic leadership to sell a deal to the party faithful, who will get the final say in a membership ballot.
"The national minimum wage has huge symbolic value," said Nils Diederich, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University who sat in the Bundestag for the Social Democrats for 16 years.
"The party had pinned itself to the issue and it needs this victory in order to send a message to young people," he said.
The Social Democrats won 25.7 percent of the vote in the Sept. 22 election, far behind the 41.5 percent that Merkel's bloc received.
Diederich predicted that coalition talks could be wrapped up by early next week.
Merkel, too, indicated that a deal could be done in the coming days, provided the Social Democrats drop their demands for tax increases.
One of the biggest remaining issues concerns the question of dual citizenship for people born in Germany who also hold a passport from a non-European Union country. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, have long opposed granting dual citizenship to the children of Turkish immigrants, saying they have to choose between loyalty to Berlin or Ankara.