German Union Boss Pushes for Merkel Gov

BERLIN (AP) -- Germany's top labor union official pressed the center-left Social Democrats on Thursday to join a new coalition government under conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, arguing that failing to make a deal would hurt both sides.

Merkel's Union bloc will begin talks Jan. 7 on a possible new government with the Social Democrats, her partners of the past four years. The Social Democrats ruled out a repeat after a disastrous performance in September's election, but leaders reluctantly reconsidered after Merkel's talks with two smaller parties collapsed last month.

Many members remain skeptical. Leaders would need the approval of a party conference next month to move on to formal coalition negotiations, and any coalition deal would be put to a ballot of the full membership.

If the Social Democrats don't join a coalition, that would leave as options an unprecedented minority government under Merkel or a new election.

Reiner Hoffmann, the chairman of the German Trade Union Confederation, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that the Social Democrats now have a chance to push through employee-friendly policies and use a small window of opportunity to reform the European Union. He said it would be a "big mistake" for the party, a traditional union ally, not to take responsibility.

"We need a government that is able to act and is stable, which ensures that German society doesn't lose its cohesion and the European Union doesn't suffer irreparable damage," Hoffmann said. He said there has been too little talk so far of Germany's responsibility for Europe.

Opponents of another "grand coalition" of Germany's biggest parties argue that it would push down the Social Democrats' support even further.

"I am sure that even more voters would turn away from the big parties ... if they are not prepared to ensure social progress in a stable government," Hoffmann countered.