Angela Merkel German Chancellor to sound out coalition with Greens, liberals

The left-leaning Greens, one of the potential partners in Merkel's fourth-term government, voiced strong scepticism...

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term in the September 24 vote but the far-right AfD poached one million votes from her conservative bloc, leaving her without an obvious coalition to lead Europe's largest economy play

German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term in the September 24 vote but the far-right AfD poached one million votes from her conservative bloc, leaving her without an obvious coalition to lead Europe's largest economy

(AFP/File)
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday she would start coalition talks next week, but trouble was brewing between potential government partners over the flashpoint issue of refugees.

The left-leaning Greens, one of the potential partners in Merkel's fourth-term government, voiced strong scepticism over an agreement reached in her conservative camp to limit refugee entries at 200,000 a year.

The Greens' co-leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt labelled the deal "a formulaic compromise", while her counterpart Cem Ozdemir said: "I'm curious how they will explain it to us."

Merkel had agreed that figure in marathon talks Sunday with her Bavarian sister party the CSU, which has blamed her liberal asylum policy for sparking the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

CSU chief Horst Seehofer -- long a vocal critic of Merkel's decision to allow in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015 -- had vowed to close his party's exposed "right flank" and win back AfD voters.

In the end, in what Merkel labelled a "classic compromise", Seehofer's long-standing demand for an iron-clad refugee "upper limit" was softened to a flexible benchmark figure that could be adjusted during humanitarian crises.

The draft deal includes other caveats, stressing that no asylum seekers would be turned away before their cases are assessed.

With that compromise in the bag, Merkel announced Monday she would launch coalition talks on Wednesday next week with the two other parties -- first the pro-business and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), then the Greens.

Those talks would be followed by an all-party meeting two days later, expected to kick off a long process in which all sides haggle over policy red lines and ministerial posts, possibly into next year.

Stumbling blocks

Merkel won a fourth term in the September 24 vote but the AfD poached one million votes from her conservative bloc, leaving her without an obvious coalition to lead Europe's largest economy.

The only option now is to team up with the FDP and Greens, an alliance unprecedented at the national level which has been dubbed the "Jamaica coalition" because the parties' colours match the black, yellow and green of the Caribbean country's flag.

If they want to form a government and avoid fresh elections which could further boost the AfD, all sides must strike compromises on tricky issues from EU policy to the Greens' core demands on phasing out coal plants and fossil fuel cars.

But the first stumbling block is expected to be the topic of refugees and migration.

The Greens' Goering-Eckardt said the CDU/CSU deal is a "compromise that only needs to hold until the first meeting with the FDP and Greens".

"Mr Seehofer got his 200,000 figure, Mrs Merkel won the agreement that no one is rejected at the border," she said.

"How can you just make a cut at 200,000?" she added. "I still can't imagine how that would work."

'Squaring circle'

CSU general secretary Andreas Scheuer fired back that "the Greens must finally return to reality".

"The loss of reality with open borders -- where everyone can come to us without any rules -- that we won't accept in a new coalition."

The FDP was also sceptical about the "arbitrary" figure of 200,000 refugees a year, but labelled the agreement a basis for talks.

"The foundation has been laid," said deputy FDP chief Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, welcoming the fact that the conservative parties were "talking to one another at all".

She also welcomed a conservative proposal for a new immigration law to bring skilled workers into the country, long a core FDP demand.

Spiegel Online judged that the goal of the conservative parties' refugee agreement was to reach a "face-saving" deal for the CDU and CSU, with the hope that "the citizens won't notice".

The risk was, the commentary added, that "a policy which claims to succeed in squaring a circle is above all one thing -- a recruitment programme for the AfD".

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