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Merkel prefers fresh elections over minority govt

Jefferson Chase (Berlin)
November 20, 2017

Preliminary coalition talks collapsed between Chancellor Merkel and potential partners over the weekend. After speaking with President Steinmeier, Merkel said she was ready to lead her party to fresh elections.

Angela Merkel in orange
Image: Reuters/A. Schmidt

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Monday that she was ready to take her Christian Democratic (CDU) party into fresh elections after coalition talks with the Green party and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) failed over the weekend.

"I'm very skeptical," about leading a minority government, Merkel told public broadcaster ZDF. The center-right politician said she was ready to lead Germany for four more years, but that she felt a majority government was necessary for stability in her country and Europe.

Read more: Preliminary coalition talks collapse after FDP walks out

Merkel's statement does not necessarily mean Germany is headed for snap elections. First, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will approach other parties to see if a last-ditch coalition can be cobbled together.

In the DeutschlandTrend survey conducted for public broadcaster ARD after talks collapsed, 63 percent of respondents said they want fresh elections if a grand coalition cannot be achieved, while 23 percent backed a minority government.

Steinmeier calls for government making

Several hours ahead of Merkel's comments, Steinmeier appeared to rule out fresh elections for now, instead emphasizing the obligation each party had to the voters to reconsider whether they might not be able to create a working majority.

"I expect the parties to make the formation of a new government possible in the foreseeable future," Steinmeier said in a televised statement from Berlin. The parties had a responsibility that "cannot be simply given back to the voters."

That was a reference to fresh elections. If no majority coalition emerges, Steinmeier is bound by the German constitution to nominate a chancellor for approval by the German parliament, the Bundestag. If no stable government can be formed after three rounds of voting there, the president can then ask Germans to return to the polls.

That's a possibility Steinmeier wants to avoid. Steinmeier said he would be holding talks with various leaders of the political parties in an attempt to broker an agreement.

But given the political landscape in Germany, such a breakthrough seems highly unlikely.

No historical precedent

Germany's presidency is normally a largely ceremonial office, but Steinmeier has been thrust into the spotlight after what he characterized as "an unprecedented situation in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany."

Disaster for Germany?

On Sunday evening, the center-right FDP broke off discussions to form a three-way "Jamaica" coalition — a reference to the parties' respective colors — with conservatives and the Greens. "It's better not to govern, than to govern wrongly," said FDP chairman Christian Lindner

The other parties involved in negotiations expressed their unhappiness that talks had failed.

"I regret, with all due respect to the FDP, that we could not come to a mutual agreement," Merkel told reporters early on Monday morning, saying the parties were "on a path where we could have reached an agreement."

Merkel's fellow conservative, Horst Seehofer, said an agreement "had been in reach" before the FDP walked out. That sentiment was echoed by Green party co-chair Cem Özdemir, who said he and his team had always shown a readiness to compromise on key issues. "The only possible democratic constellation was unfortunately shot down by the FDP."

Recriminations of that sort would have to be overcome, if the idea of this coalition were to be revived. That's something most political observers regard as highly unlikely.

SPD 'unavailable,' pushes new elections

Martin Schulz
The SPD's Schulz continues to insist that his party end its partnership with MerkelImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Willnow

Another possible, but unlikely way to break the impasse would be to persuade the Social Democrats (SPD), Steinmeier's own party, to continue the current grand coalition with Merkel's conservatives.

But the SPD, coming off their worst-ever election result, 20.5 percent, in the history of the Federal Republic, reiterated on Monday that it intended to head into the opposition.

"In view of the results of the September 24 election, we are not available for a grand coalition," said SPD chairman and defeated chancellor candidate Martin Schulz in Berlin on Tuesday.

Schulz said the SPD had "no fear of fresh elections" and saw no mandate for another alliance with Merkel's conservatives.

"The voters showed the grand coalition the red card," Schulz said. "In such a situation, the sovereign, that is the voters, must reassess what is going on."

Schulz refused to say whether the SPD would tolerate a possible CDU minority government, although he did say the SPD would continue to work as part of the Merkel-led acting government.

Far-right populists react with glee

Gauland and Weidel
The AfD believes that they will profit if new elections are calledImage: DW/Kay-Alexander Scholz

In a joint press conference, the leaders of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which took 12.6 percent of the vote on September 24, said they were happy Merkel had been unable to forge an alliance.

"We think it's good that 'Jamaica' isn't coming because it would have been a coalition of the status quo," AfD parliamentary co-leader Alexander Gauland told reporters. "Ms. Merkel has failed, and it's time for her to go as chancellor."

Gauland said he expects his party to improve on its September 24 showing if it came to a new election.

The Left party also called for a snap election, saying it was the "logical democratic extension" of the failed coalition talks.