Germany has moved closer to a government led by Olaf Scholz after the Greens and the liberal FDP party announced on Wednesday that they would attempt a three-way rapprochement with its Social Democrats while avoiding Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives .
The two-party ruling brings the CDU-CSU bloc closer to the opposition, a major change for the country after 16 years of Merkel’s center-right government.
The political upheaval in Europe’s largest economy was sparked by the September 26 general election which Scholz’s party won with 25.7%, followed by Merkel’s CDU-CSU alliance with 24.1%.
For either party to lead the next German government, it would need the support of the center-left Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), who placed third and fourth.
“The voters gave us the mandate to build a government together,” Scholz told reporters.
The first three-way talks between the SPD, the FDP and the Greens will take place on Thursday.
Besieged CDU leader Armin Laschet, who led the Tories to their worst election result ever, insisted he still had a chance at the top job.
The Tories “respect the decision” of the two kingmaking parties, Laschet said, but added that the CDU-CSU is “still ready to hold talks”.
Markus Soeder, who heads the CDU’s sister party CSU, gave a darker assessment, saying the possibility of a CDU-CSU government was essentially “rejected”.
The conservative bloc must now prepare for a stint in the opposition after four coalitions led by Merkel, he said.
“It will change our country,” Soeder said.
Recent surveys suggest that most Germans want Scholz, who is also finance minister and vice-chancellor, to become the next leader of Europe’s biggest economy.
– ‘Building bridges’ –
Green co-leader Annalena Baerbock said that after preliminary talks with the SPD and CDU-CSU, the Greens “felt it made sense” to focus on a Social Democrat-led rapprochement.
Baerbock said Germany faced “great challenges” and needed a “fresh start”.
“This country cannot afford a long standstill,” she said.
FDP leader Christian Lindner said his party had accepted the Greens’ proposal to move quickly to formal exploratory coalition talks with the SPD.
There would be “no side talks” with the Conservatives, he said.
The Greens and the FDP are not natural allies, differing on key issues such as taxation, climate protection and public spending.
But both parties have said they want to “build bridges” to govern.
All parties are anxious to avoid a repeat of the consequences of the 2017 election, when the FDP dramatically withdrew from coalition talks with the Tories and Greens and it took months for a new government is taking shape.
– “It is not done” –
A rapprochement of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, which would be a first in Germany, has been dubbed a constellation of “traffic lights” after the red, green and yellow colors of the parties.
Green co-leader Robert Habeck said while the party shared some commonalities with the Conservatives, there were also “important differences”.
Informal talks over the past few days have revealed “more overlap” with the social democrats, he said, notably on climate protection, social justice and European integration.
Wednesday’s developments are likely to put more pressure on Laschet, whose political future is at stake.
Goof-prone Laschet, once seen as a shoo-in for the chancellery, has fallen out of favor with voters after being caught laughing during a tribute to victims of the deadly floods in Germany in July.
The FDP, however, threw a lifeline to Laschet by suggesting that the Tories were still in the running if the “traffic light” talks failed.
Lindner of the FDP said that a coalition with the CDU-CSU and the Greens – dubbed the “Jamaica” alliance because the party colors match that country’s flag – “remains a viable option for us”.
The FDP once served as a junior partner in a conservative-led government, and they share an aversion to tax hikes, red tape, and a loosening of tough German debt rules.
Habeck des Verts also warned that “nothing is done yet”.
Merkel herself is retiring from politics, although she will remain on an interim basis throughout the coalition bargaining.