politics

Germany's Merkel Congratulates Likely Successor Olaf Scholz on Election Victory

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  • The vote on Sunday saw the Social Democratic Party narrowly beat Merkel's conservative bloc of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union.
  • With no significant majority for either the SPD or the CDU-CSU, however, both have to enter into what are expected to be drawn-out coalition negotiations.
  • The inconclusive result puts Germany's two main smaller parties — the Greens and the pro-business Free Democratic Party — in the roles of "kingmakers."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has congratulated Olaf Scholz, the leader of the rival Social Democratic Party, on his party's election success, a government spokesperson said Wednesday.

"The Chancellor on Monday congratulated Olaf Scholz on his election success," the statement read, according to Reuters.

It's the first time Merkel's comments on the election outcome have been made public since Sunday. Preliminary results showed the Social Democratic Party had narrowly beat Merkel's conservative bloc of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union. The SPD got slightly more than a quarter of the vote, while the CDU-CSU got slightly less than 25%, according to preliminary results.

With no clear majority for the SPD or the CDU-CSU, however, both have to enter into what are expected to be long negotiations with Germany's two main smaller parties — the Greens and the pro-business Free Democratic Party — about forming a three-party coalition government.

The result is a poor one for the CDU-CSU alliance, a political powerhouse that has dominated German politics for years.

Read more: Social Democrats narrowly beat Angela Merkel's alliance in historic German election

Traditional allegiances and existing sympathies between the mainstream parties stand to complicate any coalition formation, with the Greens favoring a coalition with the SPD rather than the CDU-CSU, and the FDP favoring a coalition with the CDU-CSU rather than the SPD.

Although the two main political forces in Germany — the SPD and CDU-CSU — could achieve a majority in parliament if they combined forces, and indeed the parties have governed together in a co-called "grand coalition" in recent years, neither has much appetite to continue such an arrangement.

Read more: Social Democrats narrowly beat Angela Merkel’s alliance in historic German election

As it stands, German voters could be waiting weeks or even months before a new government is in place. In the meantime, Merkel will remain as a caretaker chancellor; if she's still in the role on Dec. 17, she will be Germany's longest-serving chancellor since Otto von Bismarck, ahead of Helmut Kohl, whose tenure lasted more than 16 years. Bismarck, Germany's "Iron Chancellor" served from 1871 to 1890.

Kings and kingmakers

Even though many experts on Germany expect negotiations to be long and complex, Scholz said Monday a coalition should be in place before Christmas.

The CDU's leader, and the CDU-CSU's candidate for chancellor, Armin Laschet, conceded on Sunday that the election result was disappointing for the bloc, telling his supporters that "we cannot be satisfied with the results of the election," according to a Reuters translation.

"We will do everything possible to build a conservative-led government because Germans now need a future coalition that modernizes our country," he added.

Germany's smaller parties, which come to coalition talks from a position of strength, are likely to extract concessions from their bigger counterparts in order to agree to any coalition deal. The Greens and FDP have already held initial discussions on Tuesday.

Analysts say this approach — where the smaller parties discuss between themselves their negotiating position before talking to the larger parties — is a novelty.

"This is a reversal from the historical norm, where the largest party instigates negotiations with smaller potential partners," Matthew Oxenford, Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in a note Monday.

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