World

Germany in crisis as coalition talks collapse

Merkel's political survival is in question, but she vows to steer country through 'this difficult time'

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel was left battling for political survival yesterday after high-stakes talks to form a new government collapsed, plunging Germany into a crisis that could trigger a fresh election.

Europe's biggest economy now faces weeks, if not months, of paralysis with a lame-duck government that is unlikely to take bold policy action.

With no other viable coalition in sight, Germany may be forced to hold a new election that risk being as inconclusive as September's polls.

Dr Merkel had been forced to seek an alliance with an unlikely group of parties after the ballot left her without a majority.

But following more than a month of gruelling negotiations, the leader of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), Mr Christian Lindner, walked out of talks, saying there was no "basis of trust" to forge a government with Dr Merkel's conservative alliance CDU/CSU and ecologist Greens.

"It is better not to govern than to govern badly," he said, adding that the parties did not share "a common vision on modernising" Germany.

Voicing regret for the FDP's decision, Dr Merkel vowed to steer Germany through the crisis, saying: "As chancellor... I will do everything to ensure that this country comes out well through this difficult time."

The Greens' leaders also deplored the collapse, saying they had believed a deal could be done despite the differences.

ACRIMONIOUS

The negotiations, which turned increasingly acrimonious, had stumbled on a series of issues including immigration policy.

Dr Merkel's liberal refugee policy that let in more than a million asylum seekers since 2015 had also pushed some voters to the far-right Alternative for Germany, which in September campaigned on an Islamophobic and anti-immigration platform.

The parties also differed on environmental issues - the Greens wants to phase out dirty coal and combustion-engine cars, while the conservatives and FDP emphasised the need to protect the industry and jobs.

Party chiefs had initially set a deadline of 6pm on Sunday (1am Monday, Singapore time), but that passed without a breakthrough - after already missing a previous target last Thursday.

Signs that talks were going badly began emerging, and the Bild daily said on its website that "failure is in the air" as the parties dug in their heels on key sticking points.

Dr Merkel can try to convince the Social Democratic Party, which has been the junior coalition partner in her government since 2013, to return to the fold.

But after suffering a humiliating loss at the polls, the party's top brass has repeatedly said that its place was now in the opposition.

Dr Merkel, who has been in power for 12 years, could also lead a minority government although she had signalled that she was not in favour of such instability.

Germany could therefore likely be forced to hold a new election, but that is not without peril for Dr Merkel, who would face questions from within her party on whether she is still the best candidate to lead it into a new electoral campaign. - AFP

Germany