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Merkel coalition in doubt as talks collapse

Angela Merkel stands with members of her party to address the media after the talks collapse
Image: Angela Merkel stands with members of her party as she addresses the media after talks collapse

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s future as German Chancellor is hanging in the balance after her potential coalition partners, the Free Demo/Purchasecrats (FDP), pulled out of talks to create a new government. 

Mrs Merkel had been forced to seek an alliance with an unlikely group of parties after September’s elections left her without a majority.

But after four weeks of negotiations, FDP leader Christian Lindner walked out of the discussions, saying there was no “basis of trust” to forge a government with Mrs Merkel’s conservative bloc and the 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.

Christian Lindner, leader of Germany's free democratic FDP party
Image: Christian Lindner, leader of the FDP party, cited irreconcilable differences

Mrs Merkel emerged from the talks looking weary but vowed to steer Germany through the crisis.

She said she would stay on as acting Chancellor and would consult with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on how to move forward, adding that a deal had been within reach.

“It is a day of deep reflection on how to go forward in Germany,” she said. “As Chancellor, I will do everything to ensure that this country is well managed in the difficult weeks to come.”

Mrs Merkel has hit a major setback in securing herself a fourth term
Image: Mrs Merkel has hit a major setback in securing herself a fourth term

Mrs Merkel was weakened after the September election as voters angry with her decision in 2015 to open Germany’s borders to more than a million asylum seekers punished her party by voting for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) far-right party.

The breakdown of the talks seemingly leaves Germany with two options: Mrs Merkel forms a minority government, or President Steinmeier calls a new election if no government is formed.

Angela Merkel wins fourth term

The key sticking points of the negotiations were the issues of migration and climate change.

Among other things the Greens were pushing for Germany to end its use of coal and combustion engines by 2030, although they had signalled they were open to some compromise.

The other parties are also committed to reducing carbon emissions, but Mrs Merkel’s bloc had not put a date on when to phase out coal.

The FDP expressed concern about what the moves would mean for jobs and Germany’s economic competitiveness.

On migration, the Christian Social Union was pushing for an annual cap on refugees, while the Greens wanted to allow more categories of recent migrants to bring their closest relatives to join them.

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    Far-right party to enter Austrian government

    Heinz-Christian Strache
    Image: The FPO’s Heinz-Christian Strache is tipped to be deputy chancellor

    Austria is set to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

    The head of the conservative People’s Party (OVP), Sebastian Kurz, has struck a coalition deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO).

    The FPO will take charge of the foreign, interior and defence ministries, among others, while its leader, 48-year-old Heinz-Christian Strache, will be deputy chancellor.

    Mr Kurz, 31, will be the youngest leader in Europe. His OVP will run ministries including finance and justice.

    When the OVP won Austria’s election on 15 October it did so with a hard line on immigration – a policy which often overlapped with that of the FPO.

    The FPO was third, taking 26% of the vote.

    “Nobody has anything to fear,” said the FPO’s secretary general and Austria’s next interior minister, Herbert Kickl.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Sebastian Kurz says he wants to increase security and combat illegal immigraton

    Mr Kurz held a joint news conference with Mr Strache and told reporters: “Our aims are quite clear.

    “We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system.”

    Mr Kurz, known as ‘wunderwuzzi’ or ‘whizz-kid’, added: “And first and foremost we want to increase security in our country, including by combating illegal immigration.”

    While Mr Kurz has said his administration will be pro-European, both he and Mr Strache have expressed doubts about further social integration.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Mr Kurz, 31, is Europe’s youngest leader

    The two men presented their agreement to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader who narrowly beat the FPO in a presidential vote in 2015.

    Mr Van der Bellen, who has the right to reject ministers, has said a new government could be sworn in early next week if everything went to plan.

    Following their meeting, Mr Van der Bellen said they had agreed it was in Austria’s “national interest” to remain at the “centre of a strong European Union”.

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    The FPO’s success mirrors that of similar parties across Europe. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is now the second-largest in the Netherlands, the Front National in France was involved in a run-off for the presidency in May and representatives from Germany’s AfD have entered the Bundestag.

    When the FPO was last in government, under the late Joerg Haider, other EU countries imposed sanctions on Vienna in protest.

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