Merkel Maps Out Arduous Path to New Government After State Election Loss

  • Chancellor denies she’s weakened after CDU Lower Saxony defeat
  • Multi-party exploratory talks are due to begin this week

Angela Merkel

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Chancellor Angela Merkel prepared the ground for lengthy negotiations on forming a new German government as she turns to coalition building after her party’s defeat in a regional election.

Exploratory talks due to begin this week with the Greens and the pro-market Free Democrats will present “conflicts and difficulties” as leaders meet for the first time since the Sept. 24 federal election, Merkel said. She denied that her Christian Democratic Union’s loss to the Social Democrats in the state of Lower Saxony weakened her hand.

“Considering this extraordinary political constellation that hasn’t existed before in Germany, it’s the right thing to do to have very intensive exploratory talks,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin on Monday. Official coalition negotiations will only begin after preliminary discussions yield common ground and will last “several weeks,” she said, certainly “significantly longer” than just this week.

Three weeks after Merkel’s faction emerged victorious but weakened from a federal ballot that saw a surge in support for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, her party on Sunday posted its worst election result since 1959 in the home state of Volkswagen AG. The setback for the CDU, whose poll lead evaporated in the run-up to election day, may put pressure on her to shift policy in an attempt to win back voters lost to other parties.

Shared Goals

The chancellor mapped out an arduous path toward forming a government. Exploratory talks, where parties may struggle to seek a common line on issues such as migration, nursing care and security, will be followed by a Greens party conference to approve opening coalition talks. Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian allies in the Christian Social Union will also hold a leadership meeting before the official talks can begin.

The Social Democrats, who governed Germany with Merkel for the past four years, have refused to reprise the so-called grand coalition. That leaves delicate four-way negotiations between the CDU and CSU, who form a joint parliamentary caucus, and the FDP and Greens.

The CDU’s defeat in Lower Saxony underscores weaknesses that were laid bare in the federal election, where the party lost more than 8 percentage points in support compared with 2013, with more than a million voters defecting to the Alternative for Germany, or AfD. Losses were especially pronounced in regions such as Bavaria, where the CSU is accustomed to absolute majorities, and the eastern state of Saxony, where the AfD’s result outstripped that of the once-dominant CDU to place first.

In Lower Saxony, the SPD came from behind to take 36.9 percent to the CDU’s 33.6 percent, according to preliminary final results. The SPD’s late surge to become the largest party in the state for the first time in 19 years may help to bolster the position of Martin Schulz, the SPD chairman who led the party to its worst result since World War II in the federal vote.

“This was the close of a very difficult election year, but the beginning of a renewal,” Schulz told reporters at a separate briefing in Berlin.

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