The end of the Angela Merkel era: Germany will get new government in first week of December

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German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a group photo with ministers and other members of her government after the cabinet meeting at the Chancellery on Wednesday (AFP via Getty)
German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a group photo with ministers and other members of her government after the cabinet meeting at the Chancellery on Wednesday (AFP via Getty)

Angela Merkel’s days as German chancellor are now numbered – at fewer than 15 – after the three parties that emerged victorious from September’s election agreed to form a centre-left government, which is set to take office around 6 December, party leaders said on Wednesday.

Finance minister Olaf Scholz, whose Social Democrats (SPD) came out on top in the four-yearly Bundestag elections on 27 September with over 25 per cent of the vote, will succeed Merkel at the head of the first ever three-way coalition at national level, made up of the SPD, the pro-environment Greens, and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

Facing a worsening health crisis at home with COVID-19 infection rates soaring to record levels, a refugee crisis abroad with many thousands of Iraqis stuck in Belarus on their perilous quest to reach Germany, and a climate crisis that is causing havoc around the world, Scholz and his untested new government will have no time for a honeymoon – especially after taking two full months to form an administration.

The incoming government is expected to be more socially liberal than the outgoing Merkel regime and has agreed to allow multiple citizenship and legalise the sale of cannabis for recreational use.

It’s known as an “Ampelkoalition” in Germany, or “traffic light coalition” because the parties are also known by their banner colours: SPD (red), Greens (green) and FDP (yellow).

“The main message is that the ‘traffic light’ is now up and running,” said Scholz at a news conference in Berlin, referring to the creation of an coalition considered strange bedfellows because of a decades-long enmity between the Greens and FDP. “We’ve formed a coalition of equals

Scholz will become Germany’s tenth post-war chancellor, and the fourth from the centre-left SPD, after Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schroder. Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have been the country’s dominant post-war party, ruling for the past 16 years and for 32 of the past 39 years.

The three parties agreed in detailed negotiations, which began formally a month ago, to make fighting climate change a centrepiece of the new government, following a campaign in which the topic overshadowed the coronavirus crisis and other issues.

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock will be Germany’s next foreign minister, while FDP leader Christian Lindner will succeed Scholz at the pivotal Finance Ministry post, and the Greens’ co-leader Robert Habeck will become environment minister.

The talks were shrouded in secrecy for the last four weeks, and, unlike in previous coalition negotiations, hardly any details of them were leaked – a possible harbinger that the three-party coalition could break with countless other traditions.

The absence of any leaks until Wednesday was quite an accomplishment, considering that a total of 22 working groups were created with a total of about 300 party leaders involved.

But after the announcement on Wednesday morning that the deal had been completed overnight, German TV station ARD reported that the coalition had agreed to raise the country’s percentage of renewable energy to 80 per cent by 2030 from about 40 per cent currently, and to switch off all of its coal-burning power plants by 2030, eight years sooner than previously planned.

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