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Scholz moves step closer to succeeding Merkel as German chancellor | Germany

Olaf Scholz has come a step closer to succeeding Angela Merkel as German chancellor after the Greens and liberals announced their readiness to enter formal coalition talks with his Social Democratic party.

Scholz, who is also the serving finance minister, welcomed the agreement, triggered by an invitation from the Greens to the Free Democrats (FDP), for the three parties to start talks on Thursday. It makes the prospect of a centre-left government replacing the centre-right which has been in power after 16 years more likely than at any time since 26 September election.

Scholz said the talks would focus on forming a government which would “bring about progress and the necessary modernisation in Germany” and added he was “grateful for the very professional and serious manner in which the Greens and the FDP have expedited the formation of a government.”

The Greens’ co-leaders, Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, called an impromptu press conference earlier on Wednesday morning at which they declared their willingness to enter serious negotiations, 10 days after the national election.

Christian Lindner, of the Free Democrats (FDP), followed about an hour later with a declaration before journalists that he had accepted the Greens’ invitation. He said his party would not be holding parallel talks with the Christian Democrats (CDU) whose leader, Armin Laschet, has not given up his hopes of succeeding Merkel.

No party won an overall majority in the 26 September election, but the SPD narrowly beat the outgoing chancellor’s conservatives for first place.

Habeck said the Greens “do not want to play an artificial poker game” and that owing to the “large amount of content overlap” between the parties, they were therefore “proposing to the FDP to approach the SPD together and from there to move from an exploratory negotiation phase to one of three-way talks”.

He admitted there were many areas in which the parties had to find agreement. “Many things have yet to be discussed,” he said.

Baerbock said that with a three-way coalition, the first on the federal level, Germany would be “learning a new form of politics”.

Lindner, appearing slightly caught off-guard, signalled that the impetus for reform was what gave his party and the Greens the biggest motivation for making a coalition work.

“We have accepted the suggestion to talk to the SPD,” he said. “Due to the common understanding that this country needs reform, this common interest [between the FDP and Greens] has emerged, despite the differences between us.” He said he was hopeful the sense of urgency could lead to a “progress-friendly focal point … which will trigger the powers of imagination”.

Laschet has refused to bow to pressure from within his own party to relinquish the idea of being able to form a government under his leadership. “We have signalled that we are ready to hold further talks,” he said. “But the decision as to which order one chooses to speak to whom, lies with the FDP and Greens,” he said.

But Markus Söder, head of the CDU’s sister party, the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union, appeared more willing to concede defeat.

“A clear direction has been decided on,” he said. “The CSU respects this decision. The new government is not yet decided on for sure, but the Union will not stand around on the back burner”.

In the past week the four main parties have pursued a flurry of two-way confidential talks, prompting a large degree of speculation and rumour, fuelled in part by leaks from within the CDU from behind-the-scenes discussions, which drew widespread condemnation from across the parties.

On Tuesday the possibility of a coalition between the CDU, Greens and FDP, considered far less likely based on the election results, was given a degree of momentum after the Greens and CDU leadership concluded a two-hour discussion by saying talks had been constructive and would continue.

But by clearly signalling their direction of travel on Wednesday, the Greens have given the talks a focus they had lacked until now.

The Social Democrats secured 25.7% of the vote, the CDU 24.1%, the Greens 14.8% and the FDP 11.5% in last month’s election, making the Greens and FDP kingmakers in any potential coalition.

In polls before and since, Germans have consistently said their preference is for a so-called “traffic light” coalition between the SPD, Greens and FDP, whose trademark colours are red, green and yellow respectively.

A “Jamaica coalition” of the CDU, Greens and FDP – their party colours corresponding with the Jamaican flag – as desired by the CDU leader, Armin Laschet, while a mathematical possibility, is far less popular.

However, FDP leaders said a Jamaica coalition should not be ruled out in the case that traffic light talks stall.

A repeat of the grand coalition between the CDU and SPD, which has governed Germany for 12 of the past 16 years under the chancellor, Angela Merkel, is seen as an administration of last resort that has very little public backing.

However, there remains a high degree of wariness at this stage as to whether talks will lead to a successful conclusion, owing to the months of heated wrangling between the CDU, Greens and FDP after the last election in 2017, which ended in stalemate. It took about six months after the election for the grand coalition government to be formed.

This time around all the main parties have been at pains to stress the need for urgency. Huge challenges face Europe’s largest economy, not least how to drive a post-pandemic recovery at the same time as catching up with digitalisation and taking a global lead in pursuing innovative, sustainable and economically viable policies to tackle the climate emergency.

The first round of talks between the three viable coalition partners, so-called “Ampelsondierungen” – literally “traffic light probings” – are expected to begin on Thursday.

Merkel, who has been in power since 2005, will continue in a caretaker role as German leader until a new government is in place.

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