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European elections

German SPD, Greens and FDP leaders want formal coalition talks

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Leaders from Germany's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and two smaller parties will recommend to their parties moving into formal coalition talks and have agreed a roadmap for negotiations, SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz said on Friday (15 October), write Paul Carrel, Andreas Rinke, Holger Hansen, Maria Sheahan and Sarah Marsh, Reuters.

The Social Democrats, who came first in last month's election, the Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) said exploratory talks on whether they had enough in common to form a government together had been constructive.

"A new start is possible with the three parties coming together," Scholz told a news conference.

FDP leader Christian Lindner said the "traffic light" coalition - named after the party colors of the SPD, the FDP and the Greens - was an "opportunity".

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"If such different parties could agree on joint challenges and solutions, then that would be an opportunity to unite our country," he said, "a chance that a possible coalition could be greater than the sum of its parts."

This would be the first time such a "traffic light" coalition governed at a federal level and would put an end to 16 years of rule by the conservatives under Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"We are now convinced there has not been an opportunity like this to modernize society, the economy and the government for a very long time," Lindner told the news conference.

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All three parties are expected to deliver a decision today (18 October) on whether or not to go forward with the talks, Scholz said.

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Bulgaria

Tired of rampant graft, Bulgarians vote in presidential election

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A combination picture shows incumbent President Rumen Radev and presidential candidate Anastas Gerdzhikov as they arrive at the Bulgarian National Television for an election debate ahead of the second round of the presidential election, in Sofia, Bulgaria, November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Bulgarians voted on Sunday (21 November) to choose the country's next president in a run-off election, weary of widespread corruption in the European Union's poorest member state amid rising energy costs and high death toll from the coronavirus, writes Tsvetelia Tsolova.

Incumbent President Rumen Radev, 58, an advocate of change aimed at cleaning Bulgaria's image as the EU's most corrupt member state, appears poised for a new 5-year term after winning 49.5% of the votes in the first round on Nov. 14.

He competes with Sofia University Rector, Anastas Gerdzhikov, 58, who won 22.8% of the vote last week and is backed by the country's towering politician of the past decade, ex-premier Boyko Borissov who was ousted from power in April.

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The presidential post is largely ceremonial, but comes to prominence in times of political crisis, when the head of the state can appoint interim cabinets. The presidency also gives a high tribune to influence the public opinion.

Radev, a former air-force commander, has gained popularity for his open support of massive anti-graft protests against Borissov in 2020 and for appointing interim cabinets that brought to light murky public procurement deals of his last centre-right cabinet. Borissov has denied any wrongdoing.

A new anti-graft party, We Continue The Change (PP), set up by two Harvard-educated entrepreneurs who Radev appointed as interim ministers in May, won the parliamentary election last week. Read more.

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Radev is supported by Borissov's political opponents -- PP, the Socialists and the anti-elite ITN party which, along with another anti-graft faction, are holding talks to form a government.

"Radev is a front-runner, but much will depend on whether his supporters will actually go to cast a ballot," said political analyst Daniel Smilov with Sofia-based Centre for Liberal Strategies.

Gerdzhikov, a respected Professor in Ancient and Medieval Literature, has accused Radev of pitting Bulgarians against one another and pledged to unite the nation, hit by COVID-related death rates that are among the highest in the EU and soaring energy costs.

Gerdzhikov is a strong supporter of NATO-member Bulgaria's Western alliances, and has campaigned to improve business opportunities and support judicial reforms to improve rule of law in the country of 7 million people.

Radev, who campaigned in 2016 for the lifting of Western sanctions against Russia, said Bulgaria must keep pragmatic ties with Moscow and should not view it as an enemy, not least because of close historical and cultural links.

His comments that the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, was "currently Russian", prompted protests from Kiyv. Read more.

The elected president takes office in January next year.

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European elections

Portugal's Socialists gain support ahead of snap election, poll shows

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Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa addresses the nation to announce his decision to dissolve parliament triggering snap general elections, in Belem Palace, in Lisbon, Portugal November 4, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo

Portugal's ruling Socialists lead the race to win an election in January with more votes than they took in 2019, but short of a full majority, according to the first poll of voting intentions taken since parliament rejected their budget last week, write Andrei Khalip and Sergio Goncalves, Reuters.

The combined left, including Prime Minister Antonio Costa's former hard-left partners who helped sink the budget bill and trigger the snap election, would retain a majority of seats in parliament, taking 52% of the vote, according to the survey by Aximage pollsters.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on Thursday (4 November) called the early ballot for Jan. 30 after the budget's defeat ended six years of relative political stability under the Socialists. Read more.

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The government is still serving in full capacity until parliament is formally dissolved.

Political analysts say an election alone might not solve the political impasse as no single party or workable alliance is likely to achieve a stable majority. Most consider the left's alliance all but impossible to rebuild due to mutual distrust.

The centre-left Socialists would garner 38.5% of the vote, about one percentage point more than in a previous poll in July, and up from 36.3% they took in the 2019 general election.

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The main opposition Social Democrats were on 24.4%, falling from 25.2% in July and nearly 28% in the last election.

The Left Bloc, on 8.8% now after taking 9.5% in 2019, would remain the third most popular party, closely followed by the rising far-right party Chega, which is polling at 7.7%, up sharply from just 1.3% in 2019.

The Communist Party, which along with the Left Bloc was once the government's partner in parliament, would get 4.6%.

Part of the Aximage poll released on Thursday showed that 54% of respondents thought a snap election would be "bad for the country", with 68% believing that no party would win a majority of seats in parliament.

Aximage surveyed 803 people between 28-31 October.

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European elections

Germany’s far-left party eager to join coalition while others steer clear

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Co-leader of the Left Party Susanne Hennig-Wellsow speaks at a press conference during a convent of Germany's left party 'Die Linke' in Berlin. Copyright  Credit: AP

While Angela Merkel (pictured) avoided political campaigning for much of the election, as it became increasingly clear that her party was trailing in the polls, she went after her centre-left deputy with an old attack line, writes Lauren Chadwick

“With me as Chancellor, there would never be a coalition in which the Left is involved. And whether this is shared by Olaf Scholz or not remains to be seen,” Merkel said in late August.

Scholz also had criticism for Die Linke -- the Left Party -- but stopped short of completely rejecting the possibility of a coalition with them. He told German daily Tagesspiegel the far-left party would be required to commit to NATO and the transatlantic partnershipIt’s now been a constant attack line from the Christian Democrats in what some say is a last-ditch effort to grab moderates on the fence between Merkel’s centre-right party and the centre-left Social Democrats, who are leading in the polls.

Voters see “behind” the attack line from the CDU, said Dr Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck at the University of Mannheim, as it is “so old hat".about:blank

Schmitt-Beck added it was a “sign of desperation” the CDU was resorting to this attack line once again as candidate Armin Laschet has failed to galvanise voters, polls show.

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A possible governing coalition?

Although experts say a coalition involving the far-left Die Linke is not what Social Democratic leader Scholz wants, he is not likely to completely rule out the possibility.

That’s because if current polling is correct, the future government coalition in Germany will need to be formed with three political parties for the first time, meaning the Left Party has never been closer to receiving a possible spot in a coalition.

The party is currently polling at around 6% nationally, making them the sixth most popular political party in the country.

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Die Linke party co-leader Susanne Hennig-Wellsow even told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in early September: “The window was as wide open as ever before. When if not now?” in regards to a possible coalition with the Social Democrats and Greens.

Many saw her words as demonstrating the party’s high hopes and preparations for entering government.

But while the current Left Party has become more mainstream since it was officially formed in 2007 - its direct historical ties to communism and hard-left foreign policy might forever keep it out of government.

Communist history and hard-line views

Die Linke was formed as a merger of two parties: the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and a newer Labour and Social Justice party. The PDS is the direct successor of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the communist party that ruled in East Germany from 1946 to 1989.

“There are many people in Germany who see this legacy as a big problem," said Dr Thorsten Holzhauser, research associate at the Theodor Heuss House Foundation in Stuttgart.

"On the other hand, the party has been de-radicalising for a couple of years or even decades now. It's shifted towards a more left-wing social democratic profile in the last years, which is also something that many people have recognised."

But Die Linke is quite polarised internally with more moderate politics in East Germany and more radical voices in some West German regions.

While a younger generation of voters is more connected to the social justice issues and hot political topics such as the climate, feminism, anti-racism and migration, other parts of the party appeal more to populism and compete with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), experts say.

The party currently has one state minister-president: Bodo Ramelow in Thuringia.

But some of the party’s hard-line foreign policy views make it an unlikely choice for a governing partner.

“The party always said that it wants to get rid of NATO, and it is a party that stems from East Germany, from a very pro-Russian political culture, a very anti-Western political culture, so this is in the DNA of the party,” says Holzhauser.

Die Linke wants Germany out of NATO and no foreign deployment of Germany’s military, the Bundeswehr.

“We will not participate in a government that wages wars and permits combat missions by the Bundeswehr abroad, that promotes armament and militarisation. In the long term, we are sticking to the vision of a world without armies,” the platform reads.

Die Linke also rejects treating Russia and China as “enemies” and wants closer relations with both countries.

‘Unlikely’ to join a coalition

“There is a chance. It's not a very big chance, but there is a chance (Die Linke could join a coalition)," says Holzhauser, yet traditionally the “scare tactics by Conservatives have been very strong at mobilising against a left-wing alliance”.

Die Linke, which used to poll ahead of the Greens and Alternative for Germany (AfD) could have a problem garnering support in the future, he said, as it becomes less of a populist party and more establishment.

“While in the past, Die Linke has been quite successful as a somewhat populist force that mobilised against the West German political establishment, nowadays, the party is more and more part of the establishment,” says Holzhauser.https://www.euronews.com/embed/1660084

“For many voters, especially in East Germany, it has successfully integrated into the German party system. So this is the flip side of the coin of its own success, that it is getting more integrated and established but at the same time it loses attraction as a populist force.”

On social issues, it's more likely to have similar demands to the Greens and Social Democrats, however, including a wealth tax and higher minimum wage. They are platform ideas that haven't come to fruition in the current SPD/CDU coalition.

But whether that means they will enter government remains to be seen, despite the perceived high hopes of the party's leaders.

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