The three parties planning to form a government in Germany announced at a press conference Wednesday in Berlin that they have finalized a deal on a governing coalition.
The deal comes after 21 representatives of the three parties — the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the environmentalist Greens and the business-focused Free Democrats (FDP) — met for the concluding negotiations earlier in the day.
The Social Democrat (SPD) Olaf Scholz, who is expected to take over as chancellor, said the three parties reached a deal to form a new government that will end the Merkel era. The negotiations were carried out in a "friendly but intense atmosphere, an atmosphere full of trust," Scholz said.
Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck said reconciling "welfare with climate protection" will underlie policies of the new government.
FDP leader Christian Lindner said "we take on responsibility for a country in a dire situation" and that there is a "there is a will and desire for change" in Germany.
"It is our remit to modernize this country together," he added.
Scholz added that fighting the coronavirus pandemic will be a priority for the new government, and he plans to set up a coronavirus crisis team at the chancellery to coordinate health policy between federal and regional governments.
Scholz also mentioned that the government would consider applying mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for select groups.
"Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic. In institutions where vulnerable groups are cared for, we should make vaccination compulsory," Scholz said.
What are some of the policies in the deal?
Germany will ideally phase out coal by 2030 and commit to 80% renewable energy
- Increase rail freight transport by 25% and have at least 15 million electric cars on the roads by 2030
- Push for a European air travel surcharge like the one that is already in place in Germany
- Immigrants able to apply for citizenship after five years and allowed dual citizenship, a potential big change for thousands of ethnic Turks, many of whom remain foreign nationals after decades in Germany
- Increasing the minimum wage to €12
- Plans to legalize the regulated sale of cannabis
- Build 400,000 new apartments a year to fight a housing crisis,
- Lower the voting age to 16
- Create a points-based immigration system to draw in qualified workers
What did the coalition leaders say?
"We are united by the will to make this country better," Scholz said at the press conference, adding that the coalition is aiming at "politics with high impact."
Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock said "we want to create a new start for more progress," and "initiate a paradigm shift ... for cohesion in our society."
Baerbock added that Germany can transform its economy so it becomes "climate neutral" and advocated a "common European response" to tackle climate change.
The FDP's Lindner said the parties "talked to one another intensely" and some of the negotiations were "highly controversial."
"The SPD and Greens can be proud of what they have achieved in these negotiations," Lindner said. "Olaf Scholz will be a strong chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany," he added.
What comes next?
Any deal must be voted on by party conferences in the case of the SPD and the FDP and by party members in the case of the Greens.
Sources said the parties would like to see SPD candidate Olaf Scholz elected as chancellor by the Bundestag in the second week of December so that the new government can commence its work.
That would also mean that outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel would not surpass the record for days in office held by Helmut Kohl, falling far less than a month short.
Elections in Germany took place some eight weeks ago. The coalition talks began on October 21.
If the election of Scholz as chancellor goes ahead as planned, it will have taken 73 days to form a new government following the elections. This compares favorably with the 171 days needed after the 2017 elections to form a so-called grand coalition of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the SPD.
The main reason for the delay back then was when the FDP walked out of talks saying it was not able to work with the Greens and the CDU in a similar three-way alliance.
Why is Germany getting a coalition government?
The parliamentary elections on September 26 saw the SPD, which was the junior coalition partner to the CDU in the previous government, make large gains to win the vote with nearly 26%.
The SPD showed itself little inclined to enter a third coalition government in 16 years with the conservatives, who came in second at just over 24%, and quickly decided to try an alliance with the Greens and the FDP, although the latter two parties differed from one another on several issues, notably climate policy.
The Greens scored an unprecedented success at the elections, beating its previous scores by around 6% to gain third place on nearly 15%, while the FDP, a traditional kingmaker party in Germany, attained 11.5% of the vote to come in fourth.
The recent coalition talks would seem to have ironed out many of the differences between the two parties, with, among other things, the Greens abandoning its plans to introduce a speed limit on Germany's motorways, while the FDP has accepted an earlier phaseout of coal-fired energy.
'New dynamic' on climate policy
Sources from the Greens have said they are satisfied that the coalition deal fulfills the environmentalist party's demands that all policy areas — from transport and construction to agriculture — take the protection of the global climate into consideration.
They said a "new dynamic" was being set in motion to help Germany stick to the goal of keeping global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
Negotiators from the Greens said Germany's climate policy under the planned coalition government would include measures to massively increase the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy. They said this would enable the country to abandon coal as an energy source by 2030, eight years earlier than planned under the last government.
wmr,tj/msh,aw (Reuters, AFP)