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Germany

Conservatives, Greens Edge Toward State Coalition

As a former German president called for constitutional changes to ensure stable coalition governments, traditional rivals in the Green and conservative camps said they would work to reach a power-sharing deal in Hamburg.

A traffic light

The green light for a "black-green" alliance is a first in Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) confirmed on Thursday, March 6, that it is ready to open negotiations with the Green party with the aim of forming a first ever "black-green" coalition in the port city of Hamburg.

"We still have differences of opinion but they can be bridged," Michael Freytag, the CDU's regional head, said on Thursday after the party's board agreed to open talks with the Greens. The move highlights the conservatives' preference to work with the Greens instead of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

Von Beust and Christa Goetsch

An unlikely marriage -- the Greens' Christa Goetsch with the CDU's von Beust

Talk of the unusual alliance first erupted when a Feb. 24 election in the city failed to provide a clear parliamentary majority for the CDU after their traditional partners, the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP), did not surpass the 5-percent hurdle to get into parliament.

Unusual bedfellows

After seven hours of exploratory talks on Wednesday, the two parties announced they had discovered "much common ground."

However, several Green members have resisted the idea of teaming up with the CDU, a traditional political adversary, and the subject has prompted much soul-searching in the ecologically minded party. Although there is a degree of common ground between the two parties, for example, in certain economic policies and in their appeal to the well-heeled -- they still differ substantially on many issues.

In Hamburg, the parties are split on several major issues, including a proposal to deepen the Elbe River to prepare Germany's biggest port for a new generation of container ships and the planned construction of a new coal-fired power station that would be the largest of its kind in the country. The Greens oppose both projects on environmental grounds.

The Green party in the city-state of Hamburg, where it goes by the name GAL, signaled on Thursday that they were prepared to enter negotiations for a "black-green" coalition with the conservatives in Hamburg.

GAL party chief, Anja Hajduk said the CDU was willing to soften its position on the new coal-fired power station and was open for an alternative.

Former president calls for changes to constitution

The mold-breaking tie-up between the Greens and the conservatives isn't the only new political grouping on the German political landscape. A steady decline in support for Germany's two biggest parties, the CDU and the SPD, have led to the rise of parties like the far-left "Die Linke" which has made it tougher to form stable governments both at the federal and state level and led to new and risky political constellations.

The development prompted former German President Roman Herzog on Thursday to call for changes to Germany's constitution to counter the rise of fringe parties he said risked spawning unstable coalitions reminiscent of the Weimar Republic.

Roman Herzog

Herzog is the first major German figure to call for a change to the constitution to deter fringe parties

Herzog, who served as German president from 1994 to 1999, wrote in Thursday's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily that Germany was witnessing a fundamental shift in its system of government and suggested that its constitution, or "Basic Law," which dates back to 1949, should be adapted.

"It will become increasingly difficult to form stable majorities and keep them together," Herzog wrote. "It is clear that the danger of minority governments will rise."

The rise of the Greens in the 1980s and more recently "die Linke," or Left party -- a grouping of ex-communists and western German SPD deserters -- means that five parties regularly clear the 5-percent hurdle, complicating the formation of political majorities.

Herzog said Germans would not accept a British winner-takes-all approach, but added that French rules calling for candidates to win absolute majorities, which often leads to run-off elections, may be a good idea.

The current German system requires the top party in any given election to form a majority in parliament, if necessary in coalition with another party or parties, to take power. Rules put in place after World War Two require parties to pass the five percent support threshold to enter parliament.

Herzog's suggestion, the first proposal by an influential German politician to change the constitution because of fringe parties, was rejected by the CDU and SPD, as well as opposition parties.

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