German kingmakers open talks toward forming new government

International

Co-chairwoman of the Greens and candidate for chancellor Annalena Baerbock, left, and co-party leader of the Greens Robert Habeck arrive for a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. Following Sunday’s election leaders of the German parties were meeting Monday to digest a result that saw Merkel’s Union bloc slump to its worst-ever result in a national election and appeared to put the keys to power in the hands of two opposition parties. Both Social Democrat Olaf Scholz and Armin Laschet, the candidate of Merkel’s party, laid a claim to leading the next government. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

BERLIN (AP) — The two parties that are expected to determine who will become Germany’s next chancellor have started talks to bridge their differences and declared that they got off to a good start.

Sunday’s parliamentary election left Germany’s traditional big parties effectively needing the support of the third- and fourth-placed parties, the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats, to take the top job after outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign.

The two smaller parties decided to talk to each other first before entertaining advances from bigger suitors. While they have some common ground, they have traditionally belonged to rival ideological camps and have different approaches to issues including the economy and fighting climate change.

In recent decades, the Greens have tended toward the center-left Social Democrats of narrow election winner Olaf Scholz. The Free Democrats have tended toward Merkel’s center-right Union bloc, which finished second under would-be successor Armin Laschet — its worst-ever result.

In near-identical Instagram posts early Wednesday, Green co-leader Annalena Baerbock and Free Democrat leader Christian Lindner posted a picture of themselves with Baerbock’s fellow Green leader Robert Habeck and the Free Democrats’ general secretary, Volker Wissing.

“In the search for a new government, we are sounding out common ground and bridges over things that divide us — and even finding some,” the posts read. “Exciting times.”

Wissing and Baerbock declined to elaborate later Wednesday, citing an agreement to keep the talks confidential. They said a larger group of negotiators from the two parties will meet Friday.

Wissing said the Free Democrats also have accepted invitations to meet with the Union, probably on Saturday, and with the Social Democrats on Sunday.

Baerbock, who said there is a “mandate for a progressive government,” said the Greens will meet separately with the Social Democrats on Sunday. She added that the Union has invited the Greens to talks next week.

The only other plausible combination of parties that would have a majority in parliament is a repeat of the often bad-tempered outgoing “grand coalition” of the two big parties, which neither of them wants.

Merkel’s current coalition came about after the 2017 election when Lindner pulled the plug on talks on a possible alliance with the chancellor’s Union and the Greens.

Merkel hasn’t yet commented publicly on the election result. But her office said Wednesday that she congratulated Scholz, currently her vice chancellor and finance minister, on “his election success” on Monday.

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Follow AP’s coverage of Germany’s election at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election

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