Germans vote in tight elections to decide Merkel’s successor By Reuters

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© Reuters. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Prime Minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and candidate for chancellor, Armin Laschet, attend a rally ahead of the general elections on September 26, in Aachen, Germany, September 2

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By Joseph Nasr and Paul Carrel

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germans vote on Sunday in a national election that seems too close to the call, and center-left Social Democrats (SPD) pose a strong challenge to retired Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

Merkel has been in power since 2005, but plans to resign after the elections, making the vote an age-changing event https://reut.rs/3hfDamG to set the future course of Europe’s largest economy.

A fractured electorate means that after the elections, the leading parties will poll each other before embarking on more formal coalition negotiations https://reut.rs/2ZeqYw3 that could take months, leaving Merkel, 67, in charge in an interim role.

Campaigning in his local Aachen constituency alongside Merkel, Conservative candidate Armin https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/conservative-laschet-struggles-momentum-german-leadership-race-2021-09-21Laschet said on Saturday that a left-wing alliance led by the SPD with the Greens and the far-left Linke party would destabilize Europe.

“They want to get us out of NATO, they don’t want this alliance, they want another republic,” said Laschet, who is 60 years old. “I don’t want Linke to be in the next government.”

Against Laschet is Olaf Scholz https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/german-leadership-race-boring-olaf-bets-craving-stability-2021-09-21 of the SPD, the finance minister of Merkel. right-left coalition that won all three televised debates among the main candidates.

Scholz, 63, has not ruled out a left-wing alliance with the left, but said that NATO membership was a red line for the SPD.

After a country-focused election campaign, Berlin’s allies in Europe and beyond may have to wait months before they can see if the new German government is ready to get involved in foreign affairs to the extent they want.

The fragmented political landscape means that a three-way coalition is likely to form. Final opinion polls https://tmsnrt.rs/3BiQwWF gave the Social Democrats a slight edge, but the Conservatives have narrowed the gap in recent days and many voters were still undecided.

The most likely coalition scenarios see the SPD or the conservative CDU / CSU bloc, whoever comes first, forming an alliance with the Greens https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-germany-election-candidates-baerbock-idUKKBN2GH188 and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

Scholz told his supporters in his own constituency in Potsdam, near Berlin, that he still expected the SPD and the Greens to secure a majority to rule alone without a third partner.

“The stronger the SPD, the easier it will be to form a coalition,” Scholz said. “I don’t know what will be possible, but maybe it will be possible, for example, to form an SPD-Greens coalition. I think it is possible. We will see.”

Both the Conservatives and the FDP reject a European “debt union” https://reut.rs/2T1UKS3 and want to ensure that the joint European Union loan to finance the bloc’s coronavirus recovery package remains exceptional. The SPD has spoken of taking steps toward a fiscal union.

The Greens are in favor of a common European tax policy to support investment in the environment, research, infrastructure and education.

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