Merkel’s chief of staff to take over as acting German finance minister, newspaper reports – Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff will become acting finance minister when Wolfgang Schaeuble leaves office, the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Friday, amid signs that coalition negotiations could last beyond Christmas.

The newspaper, without citing its sources, said Merkel had decided Peter Altmaier would take over from Schaeuble, a veteran conservative who agreed on Wednesday to become president of the parliament to clear the way for someone from another party to take his job [nL8N1M825W].

Altmaier presumably would take over after the 75-year-old Schaeuble is nominated by Merkel’s conservatives at a meeting on Oct. 17. He would then likely give up the job to whomever is named by a new coalition partner of the conservatives, probably a candidate from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

The conservatives, who won a national election on Sunday, look set to try and form a coalition with the FDP and environmentalist Greens after the Social Democrats (SPD) said they would go into opposition.

Some 59 percent of Germans support such a three-way coalition, a survey for broadcaster ZDF found. But the combination – often called a “Jamaica” coalition because the parties’ colors of black, yellow and green match those of the Jamaican flag – has never been tested on the national level.

The parties must overcome serious differences on issues such as migration, energy, taxes and Europe. Many experts say it is far from clear that they would agree to such a coalition.

Complicating the talks is a debate between Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU. The CSU has redoubled its insistence on limiting migration after losing around 10 percentage points in Sunday’s elections. Merkel has opposed introducing a migrant cap.

Only a fifth of Germans, or 23 percent, prefer a repeat of the alternative – a “grand coalition” of Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD, which has governed Germany for the last four years.

Almost two-thirds of those polled supported the SPD’s decision to go into opposition at the national level after its worst election result in the post-war era.

Andrea Nahles, the SPD’s newly elected parliamentary leader, told the newspaper Bild that she expected the conservatives, the FDP and Greens to work out the terms for a coalition.

They “need to and will get it done,” Nahles said, adding: “If Chancellor Merkel thinks the SPD is a tactical reserve option for an emergency, then she is wrong.”

Altmaier, in an interview published Friday by Focus magazine, suggested that negotiations to form a new coalition government may take longer than four years ago, when a deal was reached by Christmas.

“That’s what I‘m hoping for, but what’s decisive is the substance, not the date,” the magazine quoted Altmaier as saying.

Official exploratory talks about the coalition are due to begin after a key election on Oct. 15 in the western state of Lower Saxony, now ruled by a coalition of the SPD and Greens.

Schaeuble is due to be nominated as the conservatives’ candidate for president of the parliament at the next meeting of the conservatives’ parliamentary group, on Oct. 17.

His departure would clear the way for one of the other parties to take over the key post of finance minister. If a coalition is agreed, experts expect the FDP to demand that job, while the Greens are likely to demand the foreign minister post.

Reporting by Michelle Martin and Andrea Shalal

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