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After meeting suitors, Germany's coalition kingmakers retreat to mull next step

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By Reuters
Germany's Greens meet conservatives for crunch coalition talks
Germany's Greens meet conservatives for crunch coalition talks   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Paul Carrel and Alexander Ratz

BERLIN -Germany’s would-be “kingmakers”, the Greens and Free Democrats, will take the next two days to decide how they will proceed with talks to form a new coalition government, Greens co-leader Robert Habeck said on Tuesday.

A close result in a Sept. 26 election, when no party won an overall majority, has kicked off a round of coalition talks that could last months, with the conservatives and Social Democrats (SPD) courting the two smaller parties to try to secure power.

Unlike some other countries, where the president or monarch invites parties to enter talks on forming a government, in Germany it is up to the parties themselves to find their coalition partners.

The ecologist Greens and business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) met last week before holding their own separate meetings with the SPD and conservatives.

They must now decide which of their larger suitors they want to pursue formal negotiations with, though in theory they could do so with both in parallel – at least to start with.

“The FDP and we will certainly now evaluate the talks as a whole … we will take time for that today and tomorrow,” Habeck told reporters after the Greens and conservatives met for talks that they both described as constructive.

Habeck did not say what their next steps will be after the two days have elapsed.

At stake is the cohesiveness of a new government, its appetite to shape up Europe’s largest economy for the digital era, and the extent of Berlin’s willingness to engage on foreign issues to the degree that its allies would like.

The centre-left SPD, which narrowly won the election, said on Sunday it was ready to move to three-way coalition talks with the Greens and FDP.

Meanwhile Armin Laschet, the leader of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) who wants to succeed her as chancellor, said his conservative alliance with the Bavarian CSU also wanted a coalition with the Greens and FDP.

However, a poll for broadcasters RTL/ntv showed that 74% of voters wanted the conservative bloc to go into opposition. The conservatives slumped to a record low result in the election.

CSU leader Markus Soeder nonetheless said the conservatives’ talks with the Greens were “just as or even more exciting” as their talks on Sunday with the FDP.

Both the conservatives and Greens said they had differences but that they also overlapped on the climate and digitisation policy areas. The FDP said after its weekend talks with both larger parties that it and the SPD faced hurdles to an alliance.

So far the two smaller parties, which are from opposite ends of the political spectrum and at odds on a range of issues, have worked hard to bridge their differences.

Merkel, in power since 2005, plans to step down once a new government is formed and will stay on until that point.