Senior members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party have stressed they will not be convinced to alter their stance on immigration after the party lost swathes of votes to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) at the general election in September.
Mrs Merkel has so far failed to form a coalition government after the first round of talks collapsed at the end of 2017, but the SPD voted to reopen negotiations in a very tight vote on Sunday signalling the potential return of the grand coalition.
The SPD got its worst election result in the postwar era in September and many fear a further fall in votes, particularly because of the party’s notably more migrant-friendly approach when compared to the other main parties in German politics.
CDU deputy Julia Kloeckner said the benchmark of 180,000 to 220,000 refugees per year outlined in a coalition blueprint agreed between the parties after exploratory talks earlier this month was crucial.
She told Focus magazine: “We don’t want more immigration and certainly not uncontrolled immigration – the Jusos must accept that.”
The Jusos is the youth wing of the SPD who are particularly unwilling to cede ground on immigration.
Dorothee Baer, deputy chair of Mrs Merkel’s Bavarian CSU allies, said her party could not give the SPD any concessions on family reunification for refugees, with all possible wiggle room for this exploited during exploratory talks.
She told broadcaster ARD the parties had already negotiated that issue, adding: “We won’t reopen issues that have already been negotiated.”
Germany welcomed more than one million refugees during the European migrant crisis and Mrs Merkel’s open borders policy was widely criticised by her political rivals.
The SPD, meanwhile, is facing a potentially devastating internal crisis with party members split on whether to reopen coalition talks with the CDU.
New members are joining the centre-left party in surging numbers so they can reject a renewed coalition with the conservatives because the SPD has vowed to let its 443,000 members vote on a final deal.
Kevin Kuehnert, head of the Jusos who is spearheading attempts to prevent a grand coalition, told broadcaster n-tv: “We’ve had some extremely bad experiences working with the conservatives.”
There have even been suggestions that Angela Merkel may be ready to step down as the German leader after her recent coalition woes.
The ongoing confusion about Germany’s future has also raised questions about whether Mrs Merkel is still the right person to lead the country.
Oskar Niedermayer of Berlin’s Free University told Handelsblatt newspaper: “Angela Merkel is past her zenith.
“In the interest of her party’s electoral strength, she should not stay in office for the entire legislative term.”
Berholt Kohler, editor of the influential Frankfurter Allgermein Zeitung newspaper, added: “After the long night in Berlin, Merkel said ‘We have work before us’. For how long will that still apply to her?
“How long will the German desire for peace, stability and reliability, which brought Merkel such high levels of approval for twelve years, keep at bay the need to see new faces and constellations?”