German Chancellor Angela Merkel inched forward in her quest for a fourth-term coalition, seeking to avert a government crisis as one negotiator warned that a collapse of the talks would risk destabilizing Europe.
With a self-imposed deadline moved to Sunday, Europe’s dominant leader and her Christian Democrat-led bloc face an increasingly tense endgame to win over the Free Democrats and the Green Party for formal coalition talks, or else risk triggering new elections. Germany’s president, whose post is mostly ceremonial, urged the parties to reach an agreement.
Either way, Europe’s biggest economy is headed for uncharted territory. The three factions — nicknamed Jamaica for their respective party colors — haven’t governed together at the national level, and post-World War II Germany has never held a repeat election.
“A failure of the Jamaica talks could produce massive instability in Europe,” Winfried Kretschmann, a Green negotiator who’s the premier of economically powerful Baden-Wuerttemberg state, told reporters in Berlin on Saturday. “There’s no way of telling yet what the outcome will be.”
Germany’s election almost eight weeks ago left the country with its most splintered political landscape since the war. Merkel won with her bloc’s lowest share of the vote since 1949, while the anti-establishment Alternative for Germany, which campaigned against the chancellor’s liberal refugee policy, entered parliament with 12.6 percent of the vote.
After four weeks of preliminary talks, negotiators said Saturday that consensus on economic policy, Europe and transportation are within reach. That leaves immigration and cuts in carbon emissions as two major obstacles to be addressed on Sunday.
While billed as exploratory, the talks have been so hard-fought because once the parties agree to start working on a formal coalition pact and cabinet assignments, “there’s no turning back,” Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, who’s negotiating for the Merkel-allied Christian Social Union, told reporters.
Sense of Responsibility
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who unsuccessfully challenged Merkel for the chancellorship on the Social Democratic ticket in 2009, called on all sides to stop jockeying for position and move forward. Under the constitution, it would be up to the president to call new elections.
“Parties always try to bid up the price before the official kickoff,” he said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “In many ways, what we’ve witnessed in recent weeks isn’t much different from earlier coalition negotiations. But of course I expect all sides to be aware of their responsibilities.”