German kingmaker parties appeal to SPD for coalition talks

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Frankfurt (AFP)

The German Greens and the liberal FDP party said on Wednesday they had chosen to start three-way coalition talks with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), dealing a blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The move brings Olaf Scholz closer to the Social Democrats in the chancellery after his party won last month’s parliamentary elections with 25.7% of the vote, followed by Merkel’s center-right CDU-CSU bloc with 24.1 %.

For either party to lead the next German government, it would need the support of the center-left Greens and Free Democrats (FDP), who placed third and fourth in the polls.

Despite leading the Tories to their worst election result ever, beleaguered CDU leader Armin Laschet has not given up on hopes of replacing outgoing Merkel. But polls suggest the Germans would rather see Scholz, who is also finance minister and vice-chancellor, in the most senior positions.

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock told reporters that after preliminary talks with the SPD and CDU-CSU, the Greens “felt it made sense … to have in-depth talks with the SPD and the FDP “.

Baerbock said Germany, the EU’s most populous country and its largest economy, faced “great challenges” and needed a “fresh start”.

“This country cannot afford a long standstill,” she said.

The FDP then held its own press conference to announce that it had accepted the Greens’ proposal to move quickly to the phase of formal exploratory coalition talks with the SPD.

The first three-way talks with Scholz and his fellow SPD negotiators will begin on Thursday, FDP chief Christian Lindner said.

The Greens and the FDP are not natural allies, differing on key issues such as taxation, climate protection and public spending.

But the kingmaking parties have said repeatedly that they also have common ground and want to “build bridges” to rule.

All parties are eager to avoid a repeat of the consequences of the 2017 election, when the FDP dramatically withdrew from coalition talks with the Tories and Greens and it took months for a new government is taking shape.

– “It is not done” –

A rapprochement of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, which would be a first in Germany, has been dubbed a constellation of “traffic lights” after the red, green and yellow colors of the parties.

Green co-leader Robert Habeck, speaking alongside Baerbock, said that while the party shared common ground with the Tories, there are also “important differences”.

Informal talks over the past few days have revealed “more overlap” with the Social Democrats, he said, on issues such as climate protection, social justice and European integration.

The Greens’ clear preference for a government led by Scholz is another setback for Laschet, whose political future is at stake after the election.

Goof-prone Laschet, once considered a candidate for the highest office, fell out of favor with voters after being caught laughing during a tribute to victims of the deadly floods in Germany in July.

He was also criticized on election night for claiming the right to try to form a coalition government after leading the Tories to their lowest score in post-war German history, and for taking time to congratulate Scholz on his victory.

Nevertheless, the FDP was keen to stress that the Conservatives were not yet out of the race.

Lindner of the FDP said that a coalition of the CDU-CSU, FDP and Greens – known as the “Jamaica” alliance because the party colors match that country’s flag – “remains a viable option for we”.

The FDP once served as a junior partner in a conservative-led government, and they share an aversion to tax hikes, red tape, and a loosening of tough German debt rules.

The co-leader of the Greens Habeck also warned that “nothing is done yet”.

Merkel herself is bowing out after 16 years in power, although she will remain in an interim capacity throughout the coalition bargaining.

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