German talks on potential three-way tie-up off to fast start

Olaf Scholz (right), Germany's finance minister and chancellor candidate for the Social Democratic Party, during a family photograph of the parliamentary group members at the Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, on Sept 29, 2021. Top officials from Germany’s Greens and Free Democrats signaled they are making progress in exploratory talks on joining the next government as junior coalition partners. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

Germany’s Social Democrats hailed a positive start in their effort to form a government after their first meeting with the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats.

After seven hours of exploratory talks in Berlin on Thursday, all three parties expressed optimism that they can overcome major policy differences in their bid for a three-way coalition to lead Europe’s largest economy. The negotiations are setting the stage for the SPD’s Olaf Scholz to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor following his party’s narrow victory in the Sept 26 election.

“It’s a very trusting, very serious atmosphere, and we are talking very intensively about policies,” Svenja Schulze, a member of the SPD leadership committee and the current environment minister, said Friday in an interview with n-tv.

“We are in agreement that we need to take climate protection seriously, and that we want to take the digitalization of Germany and major infrastructure developments forward,” she added. “You can sense this unity.”

The discussions, which could take weeks, will aim to determine whether the parties have enough in common to proceed to more detailed negotiations. The three groups plan to meet again on Monday

The discussions, which could take weeks, will aim to determine whether the parties have enough in common to proceed to more detailed negotiations. The three groups plan to meet again on Monday.

Should the SPD-led effort falter, Christian Democratic Union leader Armin Laschet has said the conservatives are still open for talks on a possible coalition of their own with the Greens and the FDP. Laschet, who led the CDU/CSU bloc to its worst-ever result, told party members Thursday he’s ready to make room for new blood, but will stay on for the time being.

Germany’s political landscape is in flux after 16 years under Merkel, who decided not to run again after four terms. The fragmented vote, with the SPD holding the most seats and the conservative bloc coming in second, is forcing disparate parties together.

While the SPD and the Greens are traditional allies who aim to open Germany’s coffers to invest in climate initiatives and infrastructure, finding common ground with the FDP will be a challenge. The free-market liberals campaigned on cutting taxes, reining in debt and reducing bureaucracy.

FDP Chairman Christian Lindner repeated his vow this week that the party wouldn’t tolerate a leftist shift and would draw a line on raising taxes and loosening Germany’s constitutional debt restrictions.

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Scholz, who has served as Merkel’s vice chancellor and finance minister since 2018, has set Christmas as a deadline to get a coalition agreement signed.

The FDP, which caused the collapse of three-way coalition talks under Merkel in 2017, voiced a willingness to compromise after Thursday’s meeting.

“There are issues which will be difficult. But there is a willingness to overcome big hurdles,” said FDP General Secretary Volker Wissing. “We will now enter into deeper discussions.”

Successful exploratory talks would lead to formal coalition negotiations — a more comprehensive format that involves policy teams, all-night negotiating sessions, and political posturing. An accord would then have to be approved by each party before a Bundestag session is called to swear in Germany’s next chancellor.

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