German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she is ready to face voters again to break the nation’s political stalemate, betting they will not blame her for failed talks on forming a coalition.
Regaining her footing after the sudden breakdown, Merkel made it clear in television interviews that she intends to serve her fourth term and prefers new elections to governing Europe’s biggest economy without a majority.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier yesterday started sounding out political parties to see if he could cajole them into an alliance with Merkel.
“A minority government isn’t part of my plans,” Merkel said in an interview with broadcaster ARD. “I’m certain that new elections are the better way.”
Twelve years into her chancellorship, Merkel’s former partners are wary of another deal after emerging from previous alliances bruised or broken. It is a sign of her diminished influence after Europe’s refugee crisis helped send her Christian Democratic Union (CDU)-led group to a historic low in September’s election, while propelling the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany into parliament.
Steinmeier is calling on all parties to try again to reach a deal, saying anyone who seeks out a political mandate “must not be allowed to shy away from it when they hold it in their hands.”
Merkel, who was due to attend a session of the Bundestag yesterday, said the breakdown of coalition talks was no reason to “back off” her pledge to provide another four years of sound governance.
“Germany needs stability now,” she told ZDF television.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD), part of Merkel’s “grand coalition” over the past four years, is refusing a rerun after suffering its worst electoral defeat since World War II. SPD policy victories, such as a national minimum wage and gender quotas for supervisory boards, did not prevent the party’s decline.
“We have a very difficult situation,” SPD caucus chairwoman Andrea Nahles said. “Merkel doesn’t have the power to build a new government.”
The Free Democratic Party (FDP), which ended a month of coalition talks late on Sunday, is wary because it crashed out of parliament after failing to impose its tax-cutting agenda as Merkel’s partner between 2009 and 2013.
And then there are personality clashes.
Merkel, 63, does not trust FDP Chairman Christian Lindner, 38, who harshly criticized her during the refugee crisis.
She sees him as an opportunist and populist who avoids responsibility, a person close to her said.
Lindnerhas never been an admirer of Merkel, an FDP official said.
Lindner took a hard line, telling FDP members in a letter “the experiment of a four-party coalition is unfortunately finished.”
He said relations were strained by differences over issues like burden-sharing in the EU.
That will not stop Merkel’s CDU from continuing to look for a compromise.
Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said it might take another three weeks to find out if forming a viable coalition is still possible.
“We are ready to make sure that the country continues to have stable and reliable government in the interim,” Altmaier said on ZDF television. “This is our trademark, like ‘Made in Germany.’”
Steinmeier was to start rapprochement efforts with the Greens and the FDP later yesterday, according to the DPA news service.
The Greens appear ready to compromise and resume efforts to form a coalition, which makes the discussions with Lindner crucial.
While the presidency is mostly ceremonial, the deadlock is thrusting Steinmeier into a key role. He’ll be prodding parties to work together or engineering a minority government. If those efforts fail, it’ll be up to him to call new elections, though the constitutional hurdles to such a move are significant.
One problem Merkel does not have is a challenge to her leadership of the CDU.
While weakened by the election results and the collapse of coalition talks, an “outright challenge to her from within her own party ahead of potential early elections still seems unlikely,” Berenberg Bank chief economist Holger Schmieding said. “If she wants to, she can probably stay on.”
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