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Germany Future Uncertain as Talks Fail 11/20 06:19

   BERLIN (AP) -- Germany faced an uncertain political future on Monday after 
the collapse of weeks of talks on forming a new government, with Chancellor 
Angela Merkel set to consult the country's president and the possibility of new 
elections looming.

   Germany's Sept. 24 election produced an awkward result that left Merkel's 
two-party conservative bloc seeking a coalition with the pro-business Free 
Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens. The combination of 
ideologically disparate parties hadn't been tried before in a national 
government, and came to nothing when the Free Democrats walked out of talks 
Sunday night.

   Merkel said her conservatives had left "nothing untried to find a solution." 
She said that she "will do everything to ensure that this country is well-led 
through these difficult weeks."

   It's likely to be a while before the situation is resolved. The only other 
politically plausible combination with a parliamentary majority is a repeat of 
Merkel's outgoing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats --- but they 
have insisted time and again that they will go into opposition after a 
disastrous election result.

   If they stick to that insistence, that leaves a minority government --- not 
previously tried in post-World War II Germany --- or new elections as the only 
options. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will ultimately have to make that 
decision, since the German constitution doesn't allow parliament to dissolve 

   To get to either destination, Steinmeier would first have to propose a 
chancellor to parliament, who must win a majority of all lawmakers to be 
elected. Assuming that fails, parliament has 14 days to elect a candidate of 
its own choosing by an absolute majority. And if that fails, Steinmeier would 
then propose a candidate who could be elected by a plurality of lawmakers.

   Steinmeier would then have to decide whether to appoint a minority 
government or dissolve parliament, triggering an election within 60 days. 
Merkel's Union bloc is easily the biggest group in parliament, but is 109 seats 
short of a majority.

   Merkel, Germany's leader since 2005, said she would consult Steinmeier 
Monday "and then we will have to see how things develop." She didn't say more 
about her plans, or address whether she would run again if there are new 

   Peter Tauber, the general secretary of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, 
told Deutschlandfunk radio that politicians shouldn't "throw it back to our 
citizens and say, 'vote again, we didn't agree.'"

   "I think it's an absolute strength of our democracy, our society, that we 
are capable of compromise --- it's because of that that we have been such a 
stable and strong country in the past," Tauber said. "And we should think 
carefully about whether we want to give up this principle."

   Christian Lindner, the Free Democrats' leader, justified his decision to 
break off talks by saying that "we would have been forced to give up our 
principles and all that we had worked for for years." His party returned to 
parliament in September four years after voters, unimpressed with its 
performance as the junior partner in Merkel's 2009-2013 government, ejected it.

   "It is better not to govern than to govern wrong," Lindner said.

   Key sticking points during the talks were the issues of migration and 
climate change, on which the Greens and the other parties diverged, but also 
Free Democrat demands on tax policy.

   Merkel had planned to meet Monday with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, but 
that meeting was canceled at short notice.


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