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Germany

Social Democrats risk a minority coalition in Germany's largest state

The Social Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia have announced they will after all form a minority coalition with the Greens, five weeks after the regional elections. Hannelore Kraft of the SPD will become state premier.

Hannelore Kraft of the SPD.

Hannelore Kraft will be the next premier of North Rhine-Westphalia

In an unexpected move, Hannelore Kraft, regional head of the Social Democrats (SPD), has formed a minority coalition with the Greens in the North Rhine-Westphalian parliament. Kraft will now replace Juergen Ruettgers of the Christian Democrats (CDU) as state premier.

For days, she had been saying that she did not trust the idea of a minority government, and the announcement took observers by surprise.

The process leading up to this decision has been marked by intense political wrangling ever since the regional election on May 9.

The people of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, threw out the ruling coalition of the CDU with the liberal FDP. But five weeks later they are still nominally in power. Despite having held talks with all the parties, the SPD had apparently decided to sit the summer out, and attempt to form a coalition in the autumn. On Thursday, however, they formally announced that they want to go into partnership with their favored partners, the Greens, after all.

Hannelore Kraft of the SPD and Sylvia Loehrmann of the Greens at a press conference.

Kraft gets on well with the Green leader Sylvia Loehrmann

Disappointment all round

The results of the elections were a disappointment for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic party, which lost 10 percent of the vote compared with the previous regional elections in 2005. Their coalition partners, the FDP, also did badly, so that their government no longer had a majority.

The Social Democrats also performed relatively poorly, with 2 percent fewer votes than in 2005. The Greens, meanwhile, had their best performance ever, with a 6 percent increase.

But the usual coalitions were made impossible by the entry of the Left party into parliament for the first time, with 5.6 percent of the vote.

Although 6,000 people more voted for the CDU, both CDU and SPD ended up with the same number of seats, 67 apiece. But because only the FDP wanted to enter a coalition with the CDU, it fell to the Social Democrats to attempt to form a government. Over the last five weeks, they have held talks with the Left party, the Liberals, the Greens and even the Christian Democrats, but they were unable to reach agreement.

Wait-and-see tactics

The regional parliament in Duesseldorf

The regional parliament in Duesseldorf will see a new government after all

So Kraft decided to leave the current CDU-FDP coalition in office, and to act from the opposition, passing laws in parliament which the government would be obliged to implement. Her only alternative was a minority government with the Greens, which would have to look for majorities on each issue.

The Greens made it clear they weren't happy with that solution. So did the national Social Democrat leadership: they were hoping that a Kraft-led regional government would topple the federal government's majority in the second house of parliament, the Bundesrat.

For several days, Kraft remained firm. In an interview with the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper on Thursday, she said, "In my opinion a minority government would not be a stable situation in the long term."

However, later the same day, Kraft made her dramatic U-turn.

The SPD and Greens will have ten more seats than the CDU and FDP together, but they are one seat short of an absolute majority.

Author: Joanna Impey (apn/Reuters)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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