Germany's SPD wants to open coalition talks this week

Germany's Social Democrats narrowly won the national election on Sept 26, 2021.
Germany's Social Democrats narrowly won the national election on Sept 26, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (REUTERS) - Germany's Social Democrats (SPD), who narrowly won Sunday's (Sept 26) national election ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, said on Tuesday they hoped to talk to the Greens and Free Democrats later this week about forming a three-way government.

The Greens and the liberal FDP, who are far apart on many issues, have said they will first talk to each other to seek areas of compromise before starting negotiations with either the SPD or the conservatives.

SPD parliamentary party leader Rolf Muetzenich said he welcomed the initiative of the two smaller parties to smooth out their differences, but he still wanted to talk to the potential partners in a three-way coalition this week.

"It would be good if the Greens and the FDP would also concentrate on meeting with us this week for exploratory talks," Mr Muetzenich told German radio.

Mr Olaf Scholz, the candidate to become the first SPD chancellor since Dr Merkel took over in 2005, said he was hopeful about progress.

"I am optimistic. We will manage to build a coalition with pragmatism and readiness to cooperate," Mr Scholz said on Twitter.

His conservative rival Armin Laschet, 60, has said he could still try to form a government despite leading his CDU/CSU bloc to their worst ever national election result.

However, Mr Markus Soeder, leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party to Mr Laschet’s Christian Democrats (CDU), told an internal meeting that the conservatives should throw in the towel, German broadcaster N-TV reported.

Mr Soeder does not expect that it will even come to talks about a possible CDU/CSU alliance with the Greens and FDP as the SPD will probably succeed in building a coalition, N-TV said.

Mr Anton Hofreiter, the joint parliamentary leader of the Greens, said a coalition of his party with the SPD and FDP was most likely. “We have a big job before us,” he told parliament.

He said he was very optimistic that the Greens would be able to build trust and find common solutions.

An opinion poll conducted by Infratest Dimap for ARD television showed 62 per cent want Mr Scholz to become the next chancellor compared to just 16 per cent for Mr Laschet, while 55 per cent favour a “traffic light” coalition of SPD, FDP and Greens – reference to the respective party colours.

Germans are not in favour of another conservative-led government: 71 per cent oppose Mr Laschet trying to become chancellor amid his poor results, according to an opinion poll by the Civey institute for the Augsburger Allgemeine daily.

Dr Merkel, who did not seek a fifth term as chancellor, will stay on as caretaker during coalition negotiations that will set the course of Europe's largest economy.

The SPD, Germany's oldest party, won 25.7 per cent of the vote, up 5 percentage points from the 2017 federal election and ahead of the CDU/CSU conservative bloc on 24.1 per cent. The Greens came in with 14.8 per cent and the FDP won 11.5 per cent.

The following are some of the issues that the various parties will discuss in their plan to form a coalition government.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The Greens want to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions within 20 years through “a massive expansion offensive for renewables”. The FDP wants Germany to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The SPD and conservatives can wait until 2045.

The Greens also seek to set a general speed limit on Germany’s ‘no limits’ motorways, an idea the FDP hates, and the two also disagree on whether combustion-powered cars should be banned in the medium term, and on taxing air travel more.

HOW TO BALANCE THE BOOKS?

The FDP seeks to cut taxes for everyone – a giveaway the IW institute estimates will cost 60 billion euros (S$95.5 billion), which would be almost 20 per cent of federal tax revenue. The Greens want to lower the threshold for those paying the top tax rate of 45 per cent and to introduce a 48 per cent band for ultra-high earners. They also want to reform the debt brake to promote public investment.

The conservative CDU/CSU bloc wants gradual tax cuts, while the Social Democrats (SPD) want to help those on small and medium incomes and hike taxes for the top 5 per cent.

WHAT ABOUT EUROPE?

Along with the conservatives, the FDP rejects a “debt union” and want to ensure that joint EU borrowing to finance the 27-nation bloc’s coronavirus recovery package remains a one-off.

The Greens favour a common European fiscal policy to support investment in the environment, research, infrastructure and education.

The SPD regards the recovery package as the basis for building new trust in Europe and has talked about taking steps towards a fiscal union.

AND THE WORLD?

The Greens and the FDP are more wary of China than the SPD or the conservatives, agreeing that Chinese firms should have no part in the building of Germany’s next-generation telecoms networks in order to keep them secure.

The Greens say the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a Kremlin-backed project that would boost Germany’s reliance on Russian gas, should not be allowed to come into operation. The FDP don’t go as far, but are more sceptical than the SPD.

LONELY STANDS

In some areas the Greens are a lonely minority: alone among the four parties that could enter government, they oppose increasing German military spending to Nato’s target of 2 per cent of economic output.

In other areas, the FDP is on its own. The three other parties would increase the minimum hourly wage to 12 euros. The FDP says this is not a matter for the government.

THE ANTI-FAX ALLIANCE

Both Greens and FDP are strongly in favour of investment to improve digital infrastructure. The parties share a young voter base that is increasingly exasperated by Germany’s fax- and phone-bound public administration.

The broad consensus here could be useful when it comes to papering over the parties’ sharp differences in fiscal policy.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER?

The Greens and the FDP would both legalise cannabis sales tomorrow, as would the SPD. They would also allow people to vote from 16 years of age.

All three parties would be prepared to allow dual citizenship – a huge change for thousands of ethnic Turks, many of whom remain foreign nationals despite having lived, worked and paid taxes in Germany for decades.

The Greens and the FDP would allow civil servants to wear religious headscarves at work. The SPD and conservatives would not.