German parties aim to have new chancellor in early December

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Olaf Scholz, center, of the German Social Democratic party (SPD) arrives for coalition negotiations with representatives of the German Green party (Die Gruenen) and the German Liberals (FDP) in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN – The three parties that hope to form Germany's new government said Thursday they aim to have the country's next chancellor in place in early December, but acknowledged that they face a complex task.

The center-left Social Democrats, environmentalist Greens and pro-business Free Democrats opened formal coalition talks following a preliminary deal last week, which set out their priorities but left many open questions.

If the negotiations succeed, the new government will send outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Union bloc into opposition after 16 years at the helm. Her successor will be Olaf Scholz, who propelled the Social Democrats to a narrow election victory on Sept. 26. He is the vice chancellor and finance minister in the current government.

Twenty-two working groups will be tasked with working through the various policy issues by Nov. 10, after which top party officials would resolve remaining sticking points.

“We are very ambitious and want to have an agreement at the end of November that makes it possible for us to elect a chancellor for Germany and form a government in the week of Dec. 6,” the Free Democrats' general secretary, Volker Wissing, told reporters in Berlin. The chancellor is elected by the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag.

German coalition talks are an elaborate affair, producing an agreement that sets out details of the government's program for its four-year term. They have tended to get longer over the years as the country's political landscape has fragmented, meaning that elections rarely produce parliamentary majorities for traditional allies.

In this case, the Free Democrats — who for four decades have mostly allied with the center-right — are linking up with two traditionally left-leaning parties. That is in part because the Union is in turmoil after losing the election, and other parties doubt that it is in any shape to join a new government.

The parties have pledged action against climate change including a faster exit from coal-fueled power, which they aim “ideally” to complete by 2030 rather than 2038 as currently planned.

That's a key Green demand — but the prospective partners will have to find creative ways to finance that and other promises, since they have agreed to a Free Democrat demand not to raise taxes or to relax restrictions on running up debt. Other plans include an increase in Germany's minimum wage, sought by the Social Democrats and Greens.

So far, the talks have been relatively quick, and also unexpectedly harmonious and free of leaks.

“We have a good feeling for where the areas of conflict are, so we must approach these directly and deal with them,” Wissing said.

“The mood is good, but we know what a responsibility we three parties now have to successfully and quickly begin coalition talks and bring them to a conclusion,” Social Democrat Lars Klingbeil said.

Their Green counterpart, Michael Kellner, acknowledged that “this is a complex undertaking."

The Greens plan to put a coalition agreement to a ballot of their membership before the new government can take office.


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