German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would prefer a new election than ruling with a minority after talks on forming a three-way coalition failed overnight.
The major obstacle to a three-way deal was immigration, according to Merkel, who was forced into negotiations after bleeding support in the Sept. 24 election to the far right in a backlash at her 2015 decision to let in over 1 million migrants.
The failure of exploratory coalition talks involving her conservative bloc, the liberal pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and environmentalist Greens raises the prospect of a new election and casts doubt about her future after 12 years in power.
Merkel, 63, said she was sceptical about ruling in a minority government, telling ARD television: “My point of view is that new elections would be the better path.”
Her plans did not include being chancellor in a minority government, she said after meeting President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Steinmeier said Germany was facing the worst governing crisis in the 68-year history of its post-World War Two democracy and pressed all parties in parliament “to serve our country” and try to form a government.
His remarks appeared aimed at the FDP and the Social Democrats (SPD), who on Monday ruled out renewing their “grand coalition” with the conservatives.
“Inside our country, but also outside, in particular in our European neighbourhood, there would be concern and a lack of understanding if politicians in the biggest and economically strongest country (in Europe) did not live up to their responsibilities,” read a statement from Steinmeier.
Steinmeier is a former foreign minister who has been thrust centre-stage after taking on the usually largely ceremonial head of state role in March.
His intervention suggests he regards a new election, desired by half of Germany’s voters according to a poll,
as a last resort.
The SPD has so far stuck to a pledge after heavy losses in the September election not to go back into a Merkel-led broad coalition of centre-left and centre-right.
Merkel urged the SPD to reconsider.
“I would hope that they consider very intensively if they should take on the responsibility” of governing, she told broadcaster ZDF, adding she saw no reason to resign and her conservative bloc would enter any new election more unified than before.
“If new elections happened, then … we have to accept that. I‘m afraid of nothing,” she said.
Business leaders also called for a swift return to talks.
With German leadership seen as crucial for a European Union grappling with governance reform and Britain’s impending exit, FDP leader Christian Lindner’s announcement that he was pulling out spooked investors and sent the euro falling in the morning.
Earlier, Merkel got the strong backing of her CDU leadership.
Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of Germany weekly Die Zeit said she could rely on CDU support for now, but added: “I will not bet on her serving out her entire four-year term.”
The main parties fear another election so soon would let the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party add to the 13 per cent of votes it secured in September, when it entered parliament for the first time. Polls suggest a repeat election would return a similarly fragmented parliament.
A poll published on Monday showed a new election would bring roughly the same result as the September election, with the Greens set to see the biggest gains.
If Germans voted on Nov. 26, Merkel’s conservatives would get 31 per cent, the SPD 21 per cent, the Greens and the AfD both 12 per cent, the FDP 10 per cent and the Left party nine per cent, the Forsa survey for RTL television showed.
This compares with the election result of 32.9 per cent for the conservatives, 20.5 per cent for the SPD, 12.6 percent for AfD, 10.7 per cent for FDP, 9.2 per cent for the Left party and 8.9 per cent for the Greens.
The failure of coalition talks is unprecedented in Germany’s post-war history, and was likened by news magazine Der Spiegel to the shock election of U.S. President Donald Trump or Britain’s referendum vote to leave the EU – moments when countries cast aside reputations for stability built up over decades.
Any outcome in Germany is, however, likely to be more consensus driven.
“The problem is stagnation and immobility, not instability as in Italy,” said Joffe.
The unravelling of the German talks came as a surprise since the main sticking points – immigration and climate policy – were not seen as FDP signature issues.