BERLIN • German Social Democrat Olaf Scholz vowed yesterday to strengthen the European Union and keep up the transatlantic partnership in a three-way coalition government he hopes to form by Christmas to take over from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
Mr Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD) came first in Sunday's national election in Europe's largest economy, just ahead of the conservatives, and aim to lead a government for the first time since 2005 in a coalition with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
Mr Scholz, 63, projected a sense of calm assurance when asked whether the close election result and the prospect of prolonged coalition negotiations sent a message of instability in Germany to its European partners.
"Germany always has coalition governments and it was always stable," he said in fluent English, standing beside a statue of Mr Willy Brandt, a Cold War-era SPD chancellor who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for fostering dialogue between the East and the West.
In the first official French reaction to the German vote, European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told France 2 television: "Here is a country, our close neighbour, that puts great value on moderation, stability and continuity."
Germany is France's closest partner, and their relationship lies at the heart of the EU.
The SPD, Germany's oldest party, won 25.7 per cent of the vote, up five percentage points from its result in the 2017 federal election, and ahead of Dr Merkel's CDU-CSU conservative bloc on 24.1 per cent, provisional results showed.
The Greens came in with 14.8 per cent and the FDP won 11.5 per cent.
Coming after 16 years of Dr Merkel's pragmatic centrist leadership, the outcome of the vote will have wide-ranging implications for Europe and the West.
The SPD's recovery marks a tentative revival for centre-left parties in parts of Europe, following the election of US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, last year. Norway's centre-left opposition party also won an election earlier this month.
Mr Scholz, who currently serves as finance minister in Dr Merkel's outgoing "grand coalition", said a government led by him would offer the US continuity in transatlantic relations.
"The transatlantic partnership is of essence for us in Germany... So, you can rely on continuity in this question," he said, adding that it was important for democracies to work together in a dangerous world, even allowing for occasional "conflicts".
Mr Scholz said that he hoped to agree on a coalition before Christmas, "if possible".
However, his conservative rival Armin Laschet, 60, said that he could still try to form a government despite leading his CDU-CSU bloc to its worst-ever national election result.
The Greens and FDP said late on Sunday that they would first talk to each other to seek areas of compromise before starting negotiations with either the SPD or the conservatives.
Dr Merkel, who did not seek a fifth term as chancellor, will stay on in a caretaker role during the coalition negotiations.
German shares rose yesterday, with investors pleased that the pro-business FDP looked likely to join the next government while the far-left Die Linke failed to win enough votes to be considered as a coalition partner.
"From a market perspective, it should be good news that a left-wing coalition is mathematically impossible," said economist Jens-Oliver Niklasch of LBBW bank, adding that other parties had enough in common to find a working compromise.
If Mr Scholz succeeds in forming a coalition, the former mayor of Hamburg would become only the fourth post-World War II SPD chancellor and the first since Dr Merkel took over from Mr Gerhard Schroeder in 2005.
Dr Merkel will remain in office until a new government is in place, and if she stays through mid-December, she will overtake Dr Helmut Kohl as Germany's longest-serving post-war leader.