Merkel: No need for change on Europe

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a delicate and lengthy task in forming a new government after winning Germany’s election. Merkel set no deadline Monday, while holding out little prospect of any major change of course in Europe’s debt crisis.

Merkel’s conservative Union bloc emerged from Sunday’s parliamentary election with its best result in 23 years, finishing only five seats short of an absolute parliamentary majority to put the chancellor on course for a third term.

However, her partners of choice, the pro-business Free Democrats, lost all their seats in Parliament after a much-criticized performance in Merkel’s outgoing coalition.

Germany has no tradition of minority governments, and Merkel made clear that she has no intention of forming one. So she will have to put together either a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats of defeated challenger Peer Steinbrueck — the same combination that ran Germany in Merkel’s first term — or an improbable alliance with the environmentalist Greens.

That could take time; in 2005, it took more than two months after an indecisive election before Merkel was sworn in as the chancellor of her first grand coalition. Even when traditional allies form a coalition in Germany, the process takes several weeks.

“Thoroughness goes before speed,” Merkel told reporters on Monday, refusing to be drawn on how long the process might take. She said that “Germany needs a stable government, and we will fulfill this task.”

Merkel said she already has been in contact with Social Democrat chairman Sigmar Gabriel but he told her — “understandably, I must say” — that he wants to wait for a party convention on Friday before going further. She said she wouldn’t “rule out further contacts,” a reference to the Greens.

During the campaign, Merkel rejected calls from the center-left parties for tax increases on high earners and a mandatory national minimum wage. She argued that both would hurt the economy.

The Social Democrats and Greens have also been critical of her approach to the eurozone debt crisis, though they voted for her policies in Parliament.

A grand coalition might result in a somewhat greater emphasis on bolstering economic growth in Europe over the austerity that Germany has insisted on in exchange for bailing out economically weak countries such as Greece. However, Merkel has vehemently rejected any pooling of German debt with that of other European countries — something that the center-left parties are somewhat more open to.

Merkel said Monday that agreements have already been made to invest more in combating youth unemployment and other problems.

“Our European policy course, at least on the part of the Union (party), will not change,” Merkel said.

Still, she said she wouldn’t anticipate the outcome of coalition talks and, asked in general terms about potential policy sticking points, said: “I’m not going to talk about red lines today.”

The Social Democrats’ Gabriel said there is “nothing automatic” about a grand coalition and also wouldn’t be drawn on sticking points.

An alliance with the Greens would be particularly complicated — there’s only ever been one conservative-Green state government, in liberal Hamburg, and it collapsed. There are wide policy differences between the two parties, though the Greens have moved closer to the center since they were founded by anti-capitalists, pacifists and environmentalists 33 years ago.

“If Merkel wants, we can of course have exploratory talks with each other,” Green chairwoman Claudia Roth told Phoenix television. But she said it would be difficult: “We are not a party that, because Merkel is missing a few votes, will clean up after a lost coalition partner.”

“How are things supposed to go in the right direction with the (conservatives), who really stand for a completely different approach to politics?,” she said.

Merkel was asked Monday whether her dark green jacket sent any political signal.

“I decided on something very neutral today, and I would ask you to take it that way,” she responded.


Kirsten Grieshaber and Frank Jordans contributed to this report.

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