Merkel open to tie-up with rivals

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Merkel open to tie-up with rivals

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she was “open” to negotiations with her centre-left rivals on forming a coalition government after triumphantly romping to victory in elections but losing her current allies.

By (AFP)

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Published: Mon 23 Sep 2013, 6:41 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 4:45 PM

“We are open for discussions,” Merkel said, after accepting a standing ovation from cheering supporters waving German flags at her Christian Democrats’ party headquarters in Berlin.

“I had a first contact with the SPD (Social Democrats) chairman who understandably asked that the SPD first hold its party meeting on Friday,” she told reporters.

But she added she did not rule out talks on a potential coalition with the ecologist Greens.

A campaign focused on Merkel’s image as a safe pair of hands at the helm of crisis-hit Europe’s top economy saw voters amply reward her conservatives with close to an absolute majority.

However after her Free Democratic Party junior allies flunked out of parliament, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) needs a new partner to govern and has two options, though neither leftist bedfellow is an easy match.

“That won’t all be easy, what’s to come,” CDU premier of Thuringia state Christine Lieberknecht warned, heading into party leaders’ talks early on Monday, referring to possible coalition negotiations.

The most likely is a right-left “grand coalition” with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), whose result of less than 26 per cent dwarfed the 41.5 per cent for Merkel’s conservative bloc, its best since Germany’s joyous 1990 reunification.

Merkel already teamed up with the SPD for what proved a loveless union during her first 2005-2009 chancellorship, when Peer Steinbrueck, the party’s rival candidate in this election, served as her finance minister.

He told deflated supporters “the ball is in Merkel’s court” but analysts say bad memories of the tie-up make SPD members reluctant to repeat the experience, especially after it plunged to a historic low in the 2009 election.

An outside option would be a Merkel alliance with the ecologist Greens, who slipped to 8.4 per cent, although both parties have previously nixed such an alliance given wide policy differences.

“The stronger but also more dangerous partner would be the Social Democrats,” news website Die Zeit Online said.

“You can assume that this time they (the Social Democrats) won’t simply allow themselves to be made to look small any longer by Merkel.”

Faced with Merkel’s power surge, Spiegel Online said the Social Democrats worry a tie-up would be too uneven. “In the end, it is feared, everything would go like in 2009. Or worse.”

However the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily said that though the SPD was “acting coyly”, it was “the realistic choice” for Merkel.

Meanwhile for a potential coalition with the Greens it said “the biggest hurdle” had been removed after Merkel abruptly U-turned to embrace existing nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Nevertheless the negotiations would be “tough”. “The reservations are great, the climate in part embittered,” the Munich-based centre-left newspaper said.

Either way, observers foresee weeks of tough negotiations over policies and ministry posts between potential partners.

Political scientist Nils Diederich said he expected both the Social Democrats and the Greens to “make it difficult” for Merkel.

But he said opting for the SPD could have benefits as it dominates the upper house of parliament which represents the 16 states.

“A coalition with the Social Democrats would allow Mrs Merkel to ensure that all decisions by the Bundestag (lower house) would then also be accepted by the regional states,” he said.

Volker Kronenberg, of Bonn University, said “the SPD is stalling and being tactical”.

Congratulations poured in from Merkel’s European leaders, while the euro rose against the dollar in Asian trade on Monday after the convincing victory, with investors cheering the “continuity” Merkel provided.

“The election has gripped international interest as the eurozone is coming out of a recession, and continuity is what the markets favour,” Kelly Teoh, market strategist at IG Markets in Singapore, said in a note.

Berenberg Bank chief economist Holger Schmieding also expects little knock-on effect from a possible left-right power-sharing agreement for Germany’s position on Europe.

“The impact on policy will be small, with hardly any change on the European level and a modest tilt towards a centre-left agenda at home,” he said.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who hailed the “good result for the European Union”, noted that the anti-euro party AfD had failed to garner enough support to enter parliament.

“The Merkel Republic”, headlined a Spiegel Online commentary, declaring, “Germany has finally become Angela Merkel-Land”.

The big losers of the evening were the FDP which crashed out for the first time since its founding after the war, after plunging some 10 points since the last election amid ugly party infighting.

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