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Angela Merkel: hints at fresh elections over ruling minority government

German chancellor, Merkel, is 'skepitcal' about ruling in a minority government and would rather stand again as a candidate

21 November 2017, 8:10am
Angela Merkel has indicated that she would rather have new elections than try to rule in a minority government, as the collapse of German coalition talks have posed a serious threat to her power.

Merkel, who has headed three coalitions since 2005, said she was “very sceptical” about ruling in a minority government and suggested she would stand again as a candidate if elections were called in the new year.

She said that she was “a woman who has responsibility and is prepared to take responsibility in the future”.

Exploratory talks to form the next German government collapsed on Sunday night after the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out of marathon negotiations with Merkel’s Christian Democrats, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Green party.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German president, earlier urged political parties to resume efforts to a build a governing coalition following a meeting with Merkel.

“I expect the parties to make the formation of a new government possible in the foreseeable future,” he said, adding that the parties had a responsibility that “cannot be simply given back to the voters.”

September elections saw Merkel’s bloc poll come first place, but with a reduced share of the vote as well as with the FDP and Greens as its only plausible coalition partners.

The collapse in the talks and possibility of fresh elections brings further uncertainty for the British government over Brexit, which hoped that a strong German coalition, including the FDP, might help ease out the next phase of negotiations.

After a meeting last week, with a Markel ally, Manfred Weber, British prime minister Theresa May was reported to be close to conceding to German demands for an increased divorce settlement in exchange for a favourable start to trade talks.

The Brexit secretary, David Davis, also appealed to German business interests on Friday in Berlin.

Uncertainty in Berlin is likely to also raise concerns in France, where president Emmanuel Macron was hoping for Eurozone reforms on a partnership with a strong German government.

“It is not in France’s interest for things to get blocked,” said Macron at the start of a meeting with Bernard Accoyer, a leader of France’s opposition Les Républicains party.

Steinmeier earlier appealed for German politicians to think of Europe as he called for coalition talks to resume.

“There would be incomprehension and great concern inside and outside our country, and particularly in our European neighbourhood, if the political forces in the biggest and economically strongest country in Europe, of all places, didn’t fulfil their responsibility,” he said.

Going in to meet the president, Merkel said it was a “day of deep reflection on how to go forward” in Germany.

“As chancellor, I will do everything to ensure that this country is well managed in the difficult weeks to come,” she said.

Christian Democrat and Green negotiators on Monday stressed the common ground that had emerged between the two parties during the weeks of talks and focused their criticism on the FDP leader, Christian Lindner.

Lindner left the talks on Sunday saying the parties involved had missed several self-prescribed deadlines to resolve differences on migration and energy policies, and had “no common vision for modernisation of the country”.

“We continue to treat each other with respect and respect the [FDP’s] decision”, said Julia Klöckner, a CDU delegate. Kristina Schröder, a former Christian Democrat family minister, tweeted that the Free Democrats’ walk-out had “discredited” the possibility of a CDU-FDP minority government.

The veteran Green politician Jürgen Trittin prophesied that the pro-business party would have “a tough time” explaining its intransigence to voters seeking a responsible government in turbulent political times. Rather than taking the opportunity to make a difference on policies it cared about, such as phasing out the “solidarity surcharge” tax introduced to help fund German reunification, he said, the Free Democrats had “done a runner”.

Lindner defended his walkout, saying a continuation of the talks would have required his party to depart from its core policy convictions. “We wanted a political tide change, and that was not possible at this point,” he said.

The possibility of fresh elections in spring 2018 will continue to loom on the horizon in spite of the president’s appeal, however.

Germany’s constitution requires the president 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 would have to ask Germans to return to the polls.

The Social Democratic party, junior partner in a “grand coalition” with Merkel last term, on Monday ruled out talks about a similar arrangement for the next four years and signalled its appetite for a return to the polls.

“Two months after the federal elections the Christian Democratic Union, the Greens and the FDP have brought Germany into a difficult situation”, said the SPD leader, Martin Schulz. “We consider it important that citizens get the opportunity to consider the situation anew. We are not afraid of new elections.”