Berlin – The possibility of new elections weighed on Berlin Monday – a day after troubled three-way coalition-building talks collapsed – with some politicians signalling readiness for fresh polls, and others insisting that negotiations must continue.
The talks ended Sunday when the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) walked out after four weeks of talks, saying that it had become clear a coalition with the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Greens would have meant violating too many party principles.
We want to stay true to our voters
FDP chairman Christian Lindner said during a Monday press conference that he had said from the beginning that he never gave the chance of a coalition involving his pro-business party and the pro-environment Greens better than a 50-50 chance.
“We want to stay true to our voters,” he said.
Upping the ante on Monday, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) said they would not support renewing their current grand coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU.
With that door also closed, it is hard to see the way to a coalition unless parties begin considering a grouping with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a pairing that all major parties have ruled out due to the AfD’s anti-immigrant policies.
However, despite the odds, several leaders made it clear that new elections are also a less-than-favourable option.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Monday that he was not prepared to call early elections at this point. Instead, he has scheduled talks with party leaders to see if he can clear a path to some workable coalition.
“Forming a government is always a tough process. But the duty is one of the highest – perhaps the highest – duty for a party in any democracy.
“It is not a duty one can simply return to the voter,” he said.
The Greens were also open to resuming talks
“I expect everyone to be willing to talk in order to make the formation of a government possible,” said Steinmeier.
Steinmeier said he was planning talks with the parties in the original coalition-building talks. SPD leader Martin Schulz said he had a meeting with Steinmeier set for Wednesday. The Greens said they were also open to resuming talks.
But, while Schulz said he would never turn down a meeting with the president, he indicated that his preference would be for new elections.
“We’re not afraid of this election. Indeed, we see it coming.
“Our goal is that the voters get to make this decision.”
Schulz did not say whether he would run again, indicating only that, as party leader, he retained the right to nominate a candidate.
But his statement didn’t match entirely with that of German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, also of the SPD, who said at a summit in Myanmar that German politicians owed it the world to provide clarity as soon as possible.
“You can feel it in all the discussions here … that people are watching Germany very attentively.”
Merkel has not yet made any public comments about the possibility of new elections, but is set to take questions from a pair of journalists in a show set to air at 7:25 pm (1825 GMT) on public broadcaster ZDF.
Members of the failed talks spent Monday trying to deflect the blame for the end of the talks.
Very, very close to a deal
“We spent the last few weeks negotiating a way to create a stable government for Germany,” said deputy FDP leader Katja Sueding. “But it wasn’t possible for us to lay our liberal imprint on key topics. That’s why our place is now going to be in the opposition.”
Jens Spahn, a key CDU leader, blamed the collapse on key differences between the FDP and the Greens.
Armin Laschet, a CDU politician and premier of the state of North Rhine Westphalia, said the parties had been “very, very close to a deal,” with near consensus on topics such as migration, energy, and social policy.
During an interview with WDR2, he said FDP members had gone before the cameras late Sunday without warning their negotiation partners.
“It was a tough four weeks [of talks], but the fact it ended this way surprised everyone.”
FDP vice chairman Wolfgang Kubicki said the party weighed the decision at length before taking it.
“There was nothing on the table,” Kubicki said. “We really hadn’t made progress on any point.”
Kubicki rejected criticism from other negotiators, saying that claims of progress were unrealistic.
“How can you say that you wanted to work with us when, non-stop in social networks, routinely in public, regularly in the media, you read what bad guys we are?”
The September 24 election was hard for both the CDU and SPD. The SPD hit an historic low, of 20.5 per cent. The CDU also suffered losses, slumping to 32.9 per cent.