ON FRIDAY morning, Germany's two victorious left-wing parties will begin the historic task of building the country's first "Red-Green" national government.
Each party will send a 12-member team to the negotiations, though the real work will have to be done behind closed doors by just one or two negotiators on each side. The discussions will be sensitive because of the huge differences between their respective positions, and the massive expectations of their membership.
"We are going into the talks without preconditions, and nor do we accept preconditions," declared Jurgen Trittin, the Greens' chief negotiator. It fell to Joschka Fischer, the Greens' parliamentary leader, to clarify that there were indeed specific issues to hammer over, as he gave journalists a broad outline of his priorities.
Thus, the Greens are committed to forging an "alliance of jobs" between employers, employees and the government. They are demanding an overhaul of the tax and welfare system, so as to cut the cost of labour in Germany and thus stimulate employment. They are proposing to finance the social welfare reforms by slapping an "environment tax" on petrol.
In car-obsessed Germany, the fuel tax could emerge as the biggest issue separating the two coalition partners. The Social Democrats are also proposing to increase the price of petrol, but by a lot less than their coalition partners, whose ultimate goal is DM5 a litre - roughly pounds 7 a gallon.
The two parties should have little problem agreeing on a new nationality law, which would enable up to 3 million long-term foreign residents to become German citizens. Though there are differences between the two parties' concepts, these can be bridged.
Foreign policy is a more serious point of conflict, especially in the light of persistent rumours that Mr Fischer has his eyes set on the foreign ministry. …