German parties meet as coalition haggling begins

German political parties will hold exploratory talks from Sunday as they jostle to form the next government after a close election, with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) battling Angela Merkel's conservatives for the chancellery.

A traffic light showing red and amber is pictured backdropped by Berlin's TV tower. 
A traffic light is pictured backdropped by Berlin's TV tower on September 29th, 2020 in Berlin. The so-called traffic light coalition is one of the possible coalition combinations for Germany's next government. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

The SPD and its candidate Olaf Scholz narrowly won last week’s vote on 25.7 percent, with Merkel’s CDU-CSU alliance plunging to an all-time low of 24.1 percent as she prepares to leave the stage after 16 years in power.

The result leaves the SPD in pole position to form a government, but conservative leader Armin Laschet has also vowed to begin coalition talks in a last-ditch effort to keep the ailing CDU-CSU in power.

In the complex calculations for a coalition, the make-up of the next German government essentially hinges on which of the two parties can persuade the Greens and the liberal FDP to sign up for a partnership.

First up, in what Der Spiegel magazine has described as the “poker game for power”, is the SPD, which will huddle with the FDP on Sunday afternoon and the
Greens in the evening.

Their rivals, the CDU-CSU, will meet with the FDP on Sunday evening and the Greens on Tuesday.

‘Historic defeat’

A chart shows the results of a poll of the different coalition compositions in Germany

ZDF’s Politbarometer shows the percentage of people who thought each of the coalition options was good (gut) or bad (schlecht). Source: ZDF

In a poll for the ZDF broadcaster on Friday, 59 percent of respondents said they were in favour of an SPD-FDP-Greens coalition, also known as the “traffic-light” or “Ampel” combination after the parties’ colours (red, yellow and green, respectively).

Only 24 percent said they would prefer the combination led by the CDU, a coalition known as “Jamaica” after the colours of that country’s flag. The CDU’s traditional colours are black.

And just 22 percent were in favour of the continuation of the “grand coalition” – made up of the SPD and CDU/CSU – which both sides have dismissed several times.

Some 76 percent said they thought Scholz should be the next German chancellor, with just 13 percent backing Laschet.

Headshots of Olaf Scholz (left) and Armin Laschet

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz (left) and the CDU’s Armin Laschet pictured in Berlin and Aachen, respectively. Scholz narrowly won last week’s vote, but the conservatives have not given up yet and are also starting coalition talks. (Photos by HANNIBAL HANSCHKE and Ina Fassbender / various sources / AFP)

In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine on Friday, Scholz said it was “clear from every poll that people don’t want the (CDU-CSU) to be part of the next government”.

“The election result is clear. The CDU and CSU have suffered a historic defeat and have been voted out,” he said.

But the conservatives are not giving up, with Markus Blume, general secretary of the CSU, insisting on Friday that “Jamaica has a chance”.

The CSU, the smaller Bavarian partner in the conservative alliance, had provoked consternation earlier in the week by conceding that Scholz had won the election and should be first in the queue to form a government.

Secret selfie
The stance broke ranks with Laschet, who at that point had not publicly congratulated Scholz and had claimed “no party” — not even the SPD — could claim a mandate to govern from the vote outcome.

Laschet has faced a barrage of criticism over his election performance and his refusal to admit defeat, including calls to resign from within his own party — but has so far given no indication that he plans to do so.

READ ALSO: ‘We lost’: CDU’s Laschet faces calls to resign over German election disaster

With the SPD and the conservatives scrambling for the affections of the Greens and the FDP, the smaller parties find themselves in an outsize position of power as potential kingmakers.

“For now, the Greens and the FDP are in the driver’s seat,” said Holger Schmieding, an analyst for Berenberg bank.

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

The two parties have already held two sounding-out sessions, with their leaders posting a much-shared selfie on social media in a show of unity after a secret gathering on Tuesday.

But it remains to be seen “whether they can really choose between traffic light and Jamaica, and the extent to which they can shape the agenda”, Schmieding said.

The two smaller parties are not natural bedfellows, diverging on issues like tax hikes and public investment in climate protection.

After Germany’s last election in 2017, the FDP dramatically walked out of negotiations with the CDU-CSU and the Greens, with leader Christian Lindner declaring it was “better not to govern at all than to govern badly”.

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Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

It's official - people in Germany will get cheap public transport for three months this summer after the €9 ticket was approved.

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

As part of a host of energy relief measures to cushion the cost of living crisis, the German government is offering cheap public transport for the months of June, July and August. 

Monthly tickets will be available at a price of €9 (or €27 for all three months) and they will allow people to use all buses, trains and trams in local and regional transport throughout the country.

So even if people buy the ticket in Munich, they will also be able to use local and regional buses, trains and trams elsewhere in Germany, whether it’s Hamburg or Cologne. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

The ticket will not be valid, however, on long-distance transport such as ICE trains or Flixbus.

The offer was put together by the coalition government – made of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the FDP.

The Bundestag voted for the initiative on Thursday, agreeing to give federal states a subsidy of €2.5 billion to fund the project. 

And on Friday, the Bundesrat – the upper house of parliament that represents the states – gave the green light to the ticket, paving the way for it to begin on June 1st. 

States had wanted an extra €1.5 billion funding boost to deal with lost revenue, however it would have been hugely controversial if they had blocked it.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

During a debate on Thursday, federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) said the €9 project was “already a success”.

“All of Germany is talking about local public transport,” he said, adding that it is also being viewed with interest abroad. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 ticket

The Left party (Die Linke) voted in favour of the €9 ticket, but leader Bernd Riexinger said he thought the plan didn’t go far enough. “Three months is simply too little,” he said.

The opposition, however, slammed the move. Christian Democrat Michael Donth called it an “expensive experiment”.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn will offer the ticket for sale as early as Monday. Local public transport providers across the country are also preparing their ticket machines for the initiative. It will also be available in travel centres.

People with subscriptions to local transport will automatically benefit from the offer. 

In some regions, such as Stuttgart and Freiburg, the ticket is already available for purchase.

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin