German Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz's center-left party gave its overwhelming approval Saturday to forming a new government with environmentalist and pro-business parties — the first of three such decisions needed for Scholz to take office next week.
Scholz's Social Democrats narrowly won Germany's Sept. 26 election and launched negotiations with the Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats to form a governing coalition that hasn't been tried before at the federal level. They emerged with a deal on Nov. 24 after relatively quick negotiations.
The three-way alliance aims to modernize Europe’s biggest economy and step up efforts against climate change. It will send outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union into the opposition after 16 years and end an uncomfortable “grand coalition” of Germany's traditional big parties in which the Social Democrats were the junior partners.
“A lot of people have grown up with the idea that is natural for a member of the CDU to lead the government, and now ... the Social Democrats will provide the next chancellor,” Scholz told a largely online party convention. “This will be a government of three parties that want to venture more progress for Germany.”
Scholz set his sights for the new alliance beyond just the four-year term that is now beginning. He said the government aims “to work together in a friendly way and be re-elected.”
The convention backed the coalition deal by 598 votes to seven, with three abstentions.
The plan is for parliament to elect Scholz as chancellor on Wednesday. He will lead what is known as a “traffic light” coalition after the parties' colors of red, green and yellow.
Before that can happen, members of the three parties need to approve the coalition deal. A vote by the Free Democrats is expected on Sunday and the result of a ballot of the Greens’ 125,000-strong membership is expected on Monday.
Key pledges by the prospective partners include an increase in Germany's minimum wage to 12 euros ($13.50) per hour from the current 9.60 euros — a move that Scholz has said “means a wage increase for 10 million.” And they also aim to get 400,000 new apartments per year built in an effort to curb rising rental prices.
Scholz, 63, has been Merkel’s finance minister and vice chancellor since 2018. Unlike the other two parties, the Social Democrats haven't yet named their remaining seven Cabinet nominees, who will include the interior, defense and health ministers. Overseeing the Health Ministry is a crucial job at a time when Germany is imposing new restrictions to break a surge of coronavirus infections.
“Now let's get to work,” Scholz said after Saturday's vote.
The national disease control center on Saturday reported 64,510 new daily coronavirus cases and another 378 deaths, bringing Germany’s total deaths in the pandemic to 102,946. Merkel, in what is likely to be her last nationwide address, decried the country's resurgent COVID-19 death toll and urged everyone to get vaccinated.
“Every one of them leaves behind families or friends, stunned, speechless and helpless,” Merkel said in her weekly video message. “This is so bitter because it is avoidable. With the effective and safe vaccines, we have the key to this in our hands.”
Follow AP’s coverage of Germany’s transition to a new government at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election.
Geir Moulson, The Associated Press