- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

BERLIN — Conservative leader Angela Merkel and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder failed yesterday to resolve their battle over who should lead Germany’s new government but agreed to meet again to explore forming a right-left coalition to steer efforts to revive Europe’s largest economy.

Both Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Schroeder have laid claim to building Germany’s next government after neither won a clear majority in parliamentary elections Sunday, leaving the country, the world’s third-largest economy, in political crisis.

The deadlock means Germany could spend weeks without leadership at a time when it desperately needs clear direction to push through badly needed economic reforms. Germany also wants to maintain its strong leadership role within the European Union, particularly in the wake of the EU’s failed constitution effort and on the eve of membership talks with Turkey.

Mrs. Merkel said yesterday’s talks took place “in a constructive atmosphere” but indicated her conservative Christian Democratic Union and its sister party, the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, would not give ground on the issue of who should be chancellor.

“I laid out that I have the responsibility of building a government,” Mrs. Merkel told reporters after the meeting. “And we made it clear that if we come to coalition talks, this question must be cleared up.”

Yet the Social Democrats are holding out with their argument that German voters rejected Mrs. Merkel as chancellor, awarding her party only 27.8 percent support after months of polling as much as 40 percent.

Coupled with the Christian Social Union, the conservatives reached 35.2 percent, just edging Mr. Schroeder’s party, which won 34.3 percent.

Social Democrat chairman Franz Muentefering insisted the party was seeking to build “a stable government for this country, as quickly as possible. A government led by Gerhard Schroeder.”

Mr. Muentefering said his party was eager for more detailed discussions with the conservatives, which Mrs. Merkel said would take place Wednesday and could focus more on policy.

At the same time, the Christian Democrats also are pursuing the possibility of building a coalition with the Free Democrats — whom they met earlier yesterday — and the Greens, whom they are scheduled to meet today.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he was skeptical his Greens could find common ground with the center-right parties they have long bitterly opposed. Two days after announcing he would step down from the party leadership, he encouraged younger leaders to carefully weigh all options.

“It’s true that the Greens must open up options to both sides … but only very carefully,” he was quoted as saying in an interview for today’s edition of the Tageszeitung daily.

A last option would be for Mr. Schroeder to continue his previous coalition with the Greens, which ruled for seven years before being ousted in Sunday’s vote, by bringing in the Free Democrats. This appears highly unlikely as the Free Democrats have categorically ruled out supporting a Schroeder-led government.

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