German Greens Poised to Rebuff Merkel’s Coalition Overtures

Germany’s Greens are approaching today’s meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel and her bloc looking for an excuse to abandon talks before they’ve begun.

With the party leadership in transition, a gulf in policy with Merkel’s side, a membership skeptical of a coalition and open animosity with Merkel’s Bavarian allies, the Greens may conclude there’s no chance of finding common ground. The Greens team is due to meet with Merkel and 13 members of her Christian Democratic-led bloc at 4:30 p.m. in Berlin today.

Exploratory coalition talks will be “very, very hard” and he’s “skeptical” of success, Anton Hofreiter, the Greens’ joint parliamentary caucus leader, told reporters yesterday. Baerbel Hoehn, a deputy caucus leader, said on Phoenix television that agreeing to a coalition with Merkel would be a “kamikaze” act for her party.

Wielding the option of Germany’s first federal tie-up with the Greens gives Merkel leverage as she sounds out the Social Democrats in separate coalition negotiations. For the Greens, occupied with replacing their leadership after suffering losses in the Sept. 22 election, the talks look more like a liability.

“Governing with Merkel would probably be a stretch too far for the Greens at this point,” Carsten Nickel, an analyst with Teneo Intelligence in London, said in an e-mail. “After its disappointing election result, the party’s real task is to navigate towards the center ground. That will take effort and time, which are limited resources for a party in government.”

Kretschmann’s Warning

Green lawmakers rejected a chance to reach out to Merkel’s bloc on Oct. 8 when they opted against installing as a caucus leader Kerstin Andreae. The party’s economic policy spokeswoman, Andreae is from Baden-Wuerttemberg and allied to Winfried Kretschmann, the state’s Greens premier who warned his party in April against adopting policies that could hurt business.

Lawmakers voted instead for Katrin Goering-Eckardt, one of two lead candidates at the election who campaigned on tax increases that Merkel has dismissed as economic “poison.”

The Green views on policies such as climate protection and refugees “clearly differ” from those of the CDU/CSU, Goering-Eckardt said at the same press conference with Hofreiter. “If I only get a little bit of what I want, then I definitely don’t want to” enter a coalition with Merkel’s bloc, she said.

Energy Plan

Another core stumbling block is the energy switch, a 550 billion-euro ($740 billion) plan to shutter nuclear reactors and raise the share of renewables to 80 percent of the power mix by 2050 from about 23 percent now. The Greens seek to exit coal-fired power generation and speed up the transition to renewable sources such as solar and wind, while Merkel has said her focus is to change clean-energy subsidies to cut the project’s costs.

Merkel’s bloc “still banks on coal and, when it comes to renewables, has been stepping on the brakes instead of thinking ahead,” Goering-Eckardt said. Hofreiter said the party needs to see if Merkel is “serious about a new energy policy.”

“The core topics for us are the energy switch, modernizing social policy, but also refugee policy and data privacy protection,” Priska Hinz, the Greens’ budget spokeswoman in parliament, said in an e-mail today.

Merkel’s negotiating team has scheduled a second round of exploratory talks with the Social Democrats for Oct. 14, as both parties try to determine if there is sufficient common ground to enter into discussions on forming a coalition with a joint program for government. They ruled together in a “grand coalition” during Merkel’s first term from 2005 to 2009.

Bundestag Meeting

Merkel told lawmakers from her Christian Democratic Union at a closed meeting in Berlin Oct. 8 that she wants clarity on her future coalition partner by Oct. 22, a party official who was present said on condition of anonymity because the talks were held in private. The newly elected Bundestag, or lower house, meets for the first time on that date.

A coalition would almost certainly take longer to forge. While SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles has said that talks might last until January, the party’s commitment to hold a membership ballot on any coalition deal lends itself to a vote around the time of its convention in Leipzig in mid-November.

“Despite claims to the contrary, the talks with the Greens are mainly tactical” for Merkel, who’d prefer to govern with the SPD, said Nickel of Teneo Intelligence.

Alexander Dobrindt, general secretary of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, Merkel’s sister party, has said he won’t negotiate with current Greens leaders such as Juergen Trittin, who stood down as caucus co-chief after the election while remaining part of the team for today’s talks. The Greens are due to elect a new leadership at a congress in Berlin on Oct. 18-20.

During their press conference yesterday, Hofreiter and Goering-Eckardt repeatedly spoke about the possibility of being in opposition, at one point saying the Greens were studying how to function most effectively when faced with a grand coalition that would enjoy a Bundestag majority of 504 seats to 127 seats while also controlling the upper house, the Bundesrat.

In that event, said Hofreiter, “we’ll be able to attack this coalition from all different sides.”

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