Angela Merkel

Merkel touts new German elections instead of unstable minority government, after coalition talks collapse

Chancellor says she is ‘very sceptical’ about heading a minority government - but fresh polls risk the same indecisive outcome she now faces

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 November, 2017, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 7:14am

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that she was ready to lead her party into snap elections rather than risk leading an unstable minority government, after the collapse of coalition talks plunged Germany into a political crisis.

“I’m very sceptical” about a minority government, Merkel told public broadcaster ARD, adding that “new elections would be the better path”.

In a separate interview with public broadcaster ZDF, Merkel emphasised that Germany needed a stable government “that does not need to seek a majority for every decision”.

The veteran leader also confirmed that she was ready to lead her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) into new elections and said she had not considered stepping down after 12 years in office.

A new vote could deliver results that are just as inconclusive as September’s, which had prompted Merkel and her conservative CDU-CSU alliance to seek a partnership with the pro-business FDP and the ecologist Greens.

Merkel, whose liberal refugee policy has proved deeply divisive, had been forced to seek an alliance with an unlikely group of parties after the ballot left her without a majority.

But following more than a month of gruelling negotiations, the leader of the pro-business FDP, Christian Lindner, walked out of talks overnight, saying there was no “basis of trust” to forge a government with Merkel’s conservative alliance CDU-CSU and the ecologist Greens.

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“It is better not to govern than to govern badly,” he said, adding that the parties did not share “a common vision on modernising” Germany.

Voicing regret at the FDP’s decision, Merkel vowed to steer Germany through the crisis.

“As chancellor … I will do everything to ensure that this country comes out well through this difficult time,” she said.

News magazine Der Spiegel called the breakdown in negotiations a “catastrophe” for Merkel and said Germany, long seen as an island of stability, was having its “Brexit moment, its Trump moment”.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has sought Merkel’s backing for an ambitious EU reform plan, expressed concern about Germany’s political deadlock. He said he hoped Berlin would remain a “stable and strong” partner to allow the two partners to “move forward together,” his office said in a statement.

The euro and Germany’s blue-chip DAX index fell slightly on the news of the stalemate, but later edged back up, erasing early losses.

The acrimonious negotiations stumbled on a series of issues including immigration.

Merkel let in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015, sparking a backlash that allowed the far-right AfD party to win its first seats in parliament. Its parliamentary co-leader Alexander Gauland welcomed the collapse of the talks, saying Merkel had “failed” and that his party “looks forward to potential new elections”, in which it stands to make strong gains.

The negotiating parties also differed on environmental issues, with the Greens wanting to phase out dirty coal and combustion-engine cars, while the conservatives and FDP emphasised the need to protect industry and jobs.

The Greens angrily deplored the failure to form a government, saying they had believed a deal could be done despite the differences and accusing the FDP of negotiating in bad faith.

Lindner, who had taken a harder line on refugees as the talks progressed, “opted for his kind of populist agitation instead of political responsibility”, Greens Europe MP Reinhard Buetikofer tweeted.

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Merkel could now try to convince the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which has been the junior coalition partner in her government since 2013, to return to the fold.

But after suffering a humiliating loss at the ballot box, the party’s top brass has repeatedly said the SPD’s place was now in the opposition. Amid the political chaos, Social Democrats’ leader Martin Schulz said his party stands by its refusal to enter a new Merkel government.

Merkel, who has been in power for 12 years, could also lead a minority government although she had signalled that she was not in favour of such instability.

Germany could therefore be forced to hold new elections, which would have to be called by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

But that is not without peril for Merkel, who would face questions from within her party on whether she is still the best candidate to carry its banner into a new campaign.

Merkel was meeting with Steinmeier late on Monday to discuss the crisis as planned talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte were hastily cancelled.

Additional reporting Associated Press