Germany sees calls for quick decisions on new government

Germany Election

BERLIN (AP) — Pressure grew for a quick start to talks on Germany's next government as newly elected lawmakers held their first meetings on Tuesday and tensions simmered in outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's bloc, which declined to its worst-ever result in the country's election.

Olaf Scholz and his center-left Social Democrats, the narrow winners of Sunday's parliamentary election, underlined their hopes of talks soon on forming a coalition with the two parties that are likely to be kingmakers.

Since neither of the traditional big parties wants to renew their outgoing “grand coalition” of rivals, the third- and fourth-placed parties — the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats — appear to hold the keys to a parliamentary majority. Leaders of those parties plan to meet each other this week to search for common ground before entertaining advances from potential suitors.

“The Greens and Free Democrats have been invited by us to hold exploratory talks with us this week already if they want,” Social Democratic parliamentary group leader Rolf Muetzenich said before a gathering of his party's newly elected and outgoing lawmakers.

Hopes in Merkel’s center-right Union bloc of holding on to the chancellery appeared to be fading, with the rival who lost out to Armin Laschet to be the bloc’s candidate to succeed Merkel sounding pessimistic.

“At the moment, Olaf Scholz clearly has the best chances of becoming chancellor,” Markus Soeder said Tuesday.

Scholz, the outgoing vice chancellor, said Monday that he wants a new government before Christmas if possible. Forming a government can take weeks or months in Germany as parties thrash out in detail the new coalition's plans.

Laschet's Union bloc also is holding a meeting of its lawmakers later Tuesday, with recriminations likely after a disastrous campaign. After saying Sunday night that it would do “everything we can" to form a new administration, Laschet made clear Monday that he still hopes to lead one — but sounded more reserved, arguing that voters gave no party a mandate.

A top lawmaker with the Free Democrats called for all parties to be ready for talks by the end of this week, and for the Union to figure out what it wants to do. Marco Buschmann, the party's chief whip, told Deutschlandfunk radio that “very different signals are being sent in the Union. Some want to govern, I think — others don't.”

There have been some calls for Laschet to resign as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, the dominant party in the Union bloc, but not so far from prominent figures.

Soeder, who leads the Union's smaller party, the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, congratulated Scholz on finishing ahead. He said the Social Democrats should have the first crack at forming the government “and if that doesn't work, then we are ready for talks.”

The CSU’s top lawmaker in the parliament underlined frustration over the election outcome. “It is one the most unnecessary defeats of recent decades,” Alexander Dobrindt said.

Anton Hofreiter, one of the Greens' parliamentary leaders, noted as their much-increased group met that his party, the Social Democrats, and the Free Democrats made gains in the election while the Union lost significant ground.

“We will of course talk with all democratic parties, but that's why it's more likely that in the end there will be a ‘traffic light,’" he said, using the German shorthand — based on the parties' colors — for a Social Democrat-Green-Free Democrat alliance.

The full 735-member new Bundestag