Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) opened exploratory talks on Thursday for a new coalition government with the Green Party and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).
Since the SPD secured a narrow victory to win Germany’s federal election on September 26th, it has been courting both smaller parties to oust the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from power after 16 years.
“The citizens have tasked us with creating a government and now it’s up to us to implement this successfully,” said Olaf Scholz, SPD chancellor hopeful.
Following a historic election disaster, CDU leader Armin Laschet indicated he was ready to stand aside, 10 months after he was elected, if it helped his party secure a fifth term in office.
Hopes of that began to evaporate on Wednesday when the FDP, a traditional CDU coalition partner, agreed to open exploratory talks with the centre-left SPD and Greens.
Explaining his decision, FDP leader Christian Lindner said his party would ensure “Germany doesn’t shift left but moves forward” – in particular blocking SPD and Green tax increase proposals.
Green leader Annalena Baerbock urged swift talks and warned that Germany’s political standstill and reform backlog was having a knock-on effect in the EU.
“That’s why it is so important to make swift, constructive progress,” she said, insisting her party would not compromise on environmental issues. “The next government has to be a climate government... with climate protection at its heart.”
Tax and climate issues are the greatest gulfs between the negotiating parties. The FDP – with a traditional voter base of doctors, lawyers and managers – opposes much of what SPD and Greens promised voters: a €12 minimum wage, a wealth tax and tax increases for top earners.
The FDP also promises to act as a corrective to SPD-Green election promises to find a legal cap for rents, in light of a growing housing crisis.
To throttle what it sees as outlandish SPD-Green spending plans, FDP negotiators want a swift return to budget rules set aside in the pandemic, obliging parliament to approve balanced budgets.
Other climate policies to be discussed include a Green demand to hike the price of CO2 emissions to €60 by 2023 and a faster rollout of wind energy turbines.
The SPD and Greens shared power for seven years until 2005. But if the three-way so-called “traffic light” coalition is sworn in, it will be the first time the SPD and FDP have ruled together since the smaller party jumped ship to make CDU leader Helmut Kohl chancellor in 1982.
Looking on from the wings, CDU leader Armin Laschet insisted he was keeping the door open to a coalition with FDP and Greens.
“We will watch how the deeper talks develop,” he said. “The renewal of the CDU leadership, including the chairman, will be tackled quickly.”
With weeks of political headaches looming in Berlin, eagle-eyed observers in Berlin noticed one political point on which all three coalition hopefuls are already in agreement: legalising the controlled sale of cannabis.