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Germany facing political crisis as coalition talks collapse

Tobias Schwarz / AFP | German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen during a break in talks with members of potential coalition parties to form a new government on November 19, 2017 in Berlin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was left battling for political survival Monday after high-stakes talks to form a new government collapsed -- plunging Germany into a crisis that could see it hold fresh elections.


Merkel said on Monday that she saw no reason to resign after the collapse of the talks, adding her conservative bloc would enter any new elections more unified than before.

"I don't have a minority government in my plans," Merkel said in an interview Monday with ARD public television's Brennpunkt program. "I don't want to say never today, but I am very skeptical and I think that new elections would then be the better way."

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. Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged his country’s political parties to reconsider their positions and make it possible to form a new government, saying he will hold talks with the various parties this week.

Steinmeier said: “There would be incomprehension and great concern inside and outside our country, and particularly in our European neighborhood, if the political forces in the biggest and economically strongest country in Europe of all places didn’t fulfill their responsibility.”

The center-left Social Democrats - Merkel’s partners in the outgoing government - said on Monday they won’t budge from their refusal to enter a new Merkel administration. If that stands, a minority government or new elections are the only options.

Following September’s elections that left her without a majority, Merkel had been forced to seek an alliance with an unlikely group of parties. But after more than a month of gruelling negotiations, the leader of the pro-business FDP, Christian Lindner, walked out of talks, saying there was no "basis of trust" to forge a government with Merkel's conservative alliance CDU-CSU and the ecologist Greens.

Merkel: 'A day of deep reflection'

"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, Merkel vowed to steer Germany through the crisis.

"As chancellor... I will do everything to ensure that this country comes out well through this difficult time," she said.

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

'Failure in the air'

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

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 AfD, which in September elections campaigned on an Islamophobic and anti-immigration platform.

The parties also differed on environmental issues, with the ecologists wanting to phase out dirty coal and combustion-engine cars, while the conservatives and FDP emphasise the need to protect industry and jobs.

Party chiefs had initially set 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) Sunday as the moment of truth, but the deadline went by without a breakthrough -- the second overtime after already missing a previous target on Thursday.

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

Chancellor in danger

Merkel could now try to convince the Social Democratic Party, which has been junior in her coalition government since 2013, to return to a partnership.

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

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

Few options for Merkel if talks fail

If Merkel, however, were to ultimately choose not to form a minority government, she would face questions from within her party on whether she is still the best candidate to lead them into a new electoral campaign.

Top-selling Bild daily said earlier Sunday that a failure to forge a tie-up -- dubbed a "Jamaica coalition" because the parties' colours match those of the Jamaican flag -- puts "her chancellorship in danger".

A poll by Welt online also found that 61.4 percent of people surveyed said a collapse of talks would mean an end to Merkel as chancellor. Only 31.5 percent thought otherwise.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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