Germany's Social Democrats OK coalition to keep Merkel in power as she eyes 'reset' with Trump
Dietmar Nietan (L), treasurer of Germany's Social Democrats party, and SPD members look on as Olaf Scholz (R), interim leader of the SPD, comments on the results of the SPD party members' referendum on March 4, 2018 at the SPD headquarters in Berlin.JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP - Getty Images
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SPD acting leader Olaf Scholz said on Saturday that turn-out in the poll had been "very, very high" after an intense internal campaign that pitted the party's pro-coalition leadership against its more radical youth wing, which campaigned for "No."
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In the end, two-thirds of the party's 464,000 members approved a coalition deal.
Parliament is expected to meet next week to elect Merkel as chancellor, confirming her position as one of Europe's dominant politicians.
During the period of uncertainty over her future, however, Merkel has been somewhat overshadowed on the international stage by French President Emmanuel Macron.
That gap, described by diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic as shockingly long, underscores the challenge Merkel faces as she forms the new coalition government later this month and, as German officials suggest, tries to reset the relationship with Trump.
A strong believer in close transatlantic ties, Merkel was the go-to leader in Europe for both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush when Washington and Berlin were navigating the global financial crisis, Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and Iran's nuclear programme.
But her relationship with Trump got off to a frosty start and has never recovered.
German government officials play down the prolonged "radio silence" between Merkel and Trump, noting that the chancellor has ratcheted back her contacts with many foreign leaders during the months of arduous coalition talks at home.
They say the dialogue between Germany and the United States at lower levels of the government remains strong.
German officials still expect Merkel — who has continued to talk with Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan during times of acute bilateral tensions — to do her best to re-engage with Trump over the coming months.
The two will see each other at a G7 summit in Canada in June and at a NATO summit in Brussels a month later.
U.S.-German contacts may pick up when Merkel finally forms a new government.
As Europe's largest economy and pre-eminent power broker, Germany is crucial to the region's fortunes. Berlin's partners are eagerly awaiting a new government to help drive forward Brexit talks, euro zone reform and EU diplomatic initiatives.