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GERMAN FEDERAL ELECTION

What you need to know about Germany’s upcoming coalition talks

The Social Democrats may have narrowly won the German election ahead of the CDU/CSU - but it's the Greens and the Free Democrats who arguably hold the most power right now. Here's how parties are starting talks to form a new government.

The Greens co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck with FDP leader Christian Lindner on the right after talks on Friday.
The Greens co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck with FDP leader Christian Lindner on the right after talks on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

GREENS AND FDP AS KINGMAKERS

Yes, the centre-left Social Democrats may have won Sunday’s vote ahead of the centre-right CDU/CSU. But two parties – the Greens in third place, and the Free Democrats (FDP) in fourth spot – are in powerful positions in the race to form the next three-way coalition government. 

Despite holding different positions in many policy areas, the Greens and the FDP teamed up immediately after the vote. Greens co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, along with FDP leader Christian Lindner and secretary general Volker Wissing, even held secret talks on Tuesday and posted a selfie that went viral. 

READ ALSO: Jamaica or Traffic Light? What’s next for Germany and what does it mean?

They are seeking to build a coalition with either the Social Democrats (which would make a so-called Traffic Light or Ampel coalition) or the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) – known as a Jamaica formation because the party colours match the Jamaican flag. 

And right now they have a lot of leverage – because whoever leads the next government needs them. 

The two parties were also the most popular with younger voters. The largest portion (21 percent) of the business and digital-friendly FDP’s voters were 18- to 24-year-olds, and it was a similar figure for the Greens.

Here’s a look at what’s happened so far and what the coming days hold. 

FRIDAY TALKS

The Greens and the FDP met for a second round of so-called exploratory talks on Friday, which will focus more on the content and goals of a possible future coalition. Think less selfies and beer, and more endless cups of coffees while thrashing out the parties’ stances. 

Speaking after the talks, FDP leader Christian Lindner said: “The Greens and the FDP are the forces that have challenged the status quo the most. We feel we have a mandate to form a new beginning in Germany.

“Now we’re holding talks on how we can overcome the divisions and build bridges.”

Before the meeting, the Greens signalled their willingness to compromise – for instance on the introduction of a general Autobahn speed limit in Germany, which the FDP is against.

The Greens said, however, that they would first enter the talks with their “entire positions”, “including a speed limit of 130 km/h on motorways”.

READ ALSO: Will Germany soon introduce an Autobahn speed limit?

Both parties however are keen to change how things are done in Germany – and that’s perhaps what attracted younger voters to these two sides.  

An interesting point that unites them: the FDP and Greens both want to abolish paragraph 219a of abortion law, which makes doctors advertising too much information about abortions a punishable offence. The CDU/CSU, on the other hand, wants to retain paragraph 219a.

They’ll be looking for more common ground in these talks before they start the discussions with the SPD and the CDU/CSU.

WEEKEND TALKS

On Saturday, the Greens will meet for a small party conference.

On Sunday, the Social Democrats want to talk first with the FDP, then with the Greens. In the evening at around 6:30pm, the CDU/CSU wants to meet with representatives of the FDP.

NEXT WEEK

On Tuesday, the CDU/CSU has invited the Greens to talks in the morning.

WHO ARE THE NEGOTIATING TEAMS?

The Greens and the FDP are each coming with 10 negotiators, the SPD with six, and the CDU and CSU are sending a total of 15. 

Among the negotiating team for the Greens is the party leaders, plus state premier of Baden-Württemberg Winfried Kretschmann.

A Green paper for the small party conference states that the exploratory talks should lead to coalition talks “swiftly and in a spirit of trust”. The tough negotiations in 2017 on the formation of a coalition between the CDU/CSU, the Greens and the FDP, which the Liberals then ultimately let fall through, should not be repeated, they said. 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The SPD wants to form a coalition with the Greens and the FDP (Traffic Light). The CDU/CSU wants to form a coalition with the Greens and the FDP (Jamaica). Coalition talks will undoubtedly be tough as each party tries to get the best deal for them. 

And we have no idea at this point exactly which coalition is more likely although the SPD, with chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz, is seen as having a slight upper hand due to them coming first in the election.

If all coalition talks fail, there could be a minority government – or fresh elections held.

Until all of this is worked out, Merkel will remain chancellor as head of the caretaker government in Germany. She will step down only when the new government is formed whenever that may be. 

As we’ve been reporting, both the SPD’s Scholz, and the CDU’s Armin Laschet said they want to see a new German government in place by Christmas – that’s December 24th in Germany, just under three months away. 

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POLITICS

Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
 
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
 
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
 
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
 
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

READ ALSO: 

Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.

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