BERLIN (AP) — Three German parties announced Friday that they aim to open formal coalition talks, moving a big step closer to a new government that would send outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right bloc into opposition. The prospective partners said they have a major opportunity to modernize Europe's biggest economy and combat climate change.
The center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats, all of whom made gains in Germany's Sept. 26 election, decided they were ready to plunge into full-fledged coalition negotiations after about a week of exploratory talks. That step still requires approval by a congress on Sunday of the Greens and by the Free Democrats' leadership on Monday.
If the talks are successful, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz — the finance minister and vice chancellor in the outgoing government — will become Germany's new leader. Scholz, who says he hopes the new government will be in place before Christmas, said negotiators achieved a “very good result.”
“It makes clear that a government can be formed in Germany that wants to ensure that we achieve progress,” Scholz told reporters. One of its focuses, he said, will be “a massive expansion of renewable energy, so that it is possible for us to do without the use of fossil resources as soon as possible.”
The three-way coalition now under discussion has never been tried at national level.
“If such different parties could agree on joint challenges and proposed solutions, there is an opportunity in this to bring together our country as a whole,” said the Free Democrats’ leader, Christian Lindner. “We are convinced after these talks that there hasn't been a comparable opportunity for a long time to modernize our society, economy and state.”
A preliminary agreement after the initial talks calls for Germany to accelerate its exit from coal-fueled power, currently due by 2038, so that it “ideally” happens by 2030. That is a key Green demand. But it said there will be no overall speed limit on Germany's highways, which the Free Democrats opposed.
“We couldn't push through the speed limit, but in other places we're very satisfied,” said the Greens' co-leader, Robert Habeck.
The prospective partners also say they won't raise taxes, something that the Social Democrats and Greens had wanted for top earners, but will step up and facilitate investment in combating climate change and in digitization.
They plan to raise Germany's minimum wage to 12 euros ($13.90) per hour in the new government's first year - a demand of the Social Democrats and the Greens - and to replace a welfare payment system loathed by left-wing supporters. They also want to reduce Germany's minimum voting age for national and European Union elections from 18 to 16.
Scholz pulled the Social Democrats out of a long poll slump to win the election by a narrow margin. Merkel's Union bloc finished second, with its worst-ever share of the vote.
Lindner’s Free Democrats have tended to ally with the Union over the past four decades, whereas the Greens traditionally lean left and governed Germany as the junior partners in a Social Democrat-led government between 1998 and 2005.
The coalition talks aren't guaranteed to succeed, but the only politically plausible alternatives would involve the Union, which is currently in turmoil — focused on digesting its defeat and finding a new leadership.
The alternatives would be a government led by the Union with the Greens and Free Democrats as junior partners, or a rerun — this time led by Scholz — of Merkel's often bad-tempered “grand coalition” of Germany's traditional big parties.
Merkel, who has led Germany since 2005, announced in 2018 that she wouldn't seek a fifth term.
Follow AP’s coverage of Germany’s transition to a new government at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election
Geir Moulson, The Associated Press