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Sebastien ASH

Scholz looks to quell coalition divisions

Chancellor Olaf Scholz's three-way coalition is meeting for crisis talks. ©AFP

Berlin (AFP) - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz brought together his governing partners for crisis talks on Sunday as  his three-way coalition was engulfed by a growing number of disputes.

A little more than a year after taking office, the relationship between Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the pro-business FDP, looks more strained than ever.

Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens accused his coalition partners of blocking progress in midweek, while the FDP's deputy chief Wolfgang Kubicki compared the Green politician to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kubicki later apologised but the damaging row underlines the state of the three-way coalition -- the first in Germany's post-war history.

"Everywhere you look in the government there are fires," German magazine Spiegel said, with the parties wrangling over policy priorities and struggling for compromises.

The coalition partners gathered in the chancellery in Berlin on Sunday evening to try to put aside some of their differences and recapture their team spirit -- though the outcome of the talks might only be made public on Monday. 

Boiling over

Scholz's alliance got off to a good start in December 2021 and was tested when Russia invaded Ukraine just two months later, upending decades of German economic and political certainties. 

But tensions have since soared -- particularly between the Greens and the FDP.

The two are unnatural bedfellows, with the former set on environmental commitments to phase out nuclear energy and combustion engines, and the latter promoting very different economic policies.

It could not be "that in a coalition of progress only one coalition partner is responsible for progress and the others for preventing progress", Habeck said at a Green party event on Tuesday.

Sunday's talks would be a good opportunity to "overcome blockages" on key issues, Habeck also told broadcaster ARD, blasting the coalition's record and policy leaks.

At the root of Habeck's discontent were leaked details of a plan to ban the installation of new oil and gas boilers in 2024 -- a year earlier than previously planned.

But the idea caused ructions within the coalition, with critics underlining the costs involved.

"The plans must go back to the drawing board and be fundamentally revised," Finance Minister and FDP leader Christian Lindner said after a policy draft was leaked to German daily Bild.

Habeck's determination had something in common with Putin, Kubicki said.

Both, he declared, had "a similar belief that the state, the leader, the chosen one, knows better than the people what is good for them".

As tempers frayed, SPD general secretary Lars Klingbeil said the partners needed to "find a new way of working".

"This is an appeal to all three parties in government -- these public arguments must stop now," he said.

'Explosive material'

The boiler bust-up is only one item on the growing list of disagreements between the parties, including pension reform, child benefits and cuts to red tape.

The move to speed up the approval process for key projects to revitalise Germany's creaking infrastructure looked to be a key point on the agenda for Sunday's meeting. 

While the FDP has pushed plans to support investment in motorways, the Greens want to privilege more climate-friendly projects. 

Growing spending demands have been a key point of division, with the FDP and Lindner presenting themselves as the defenders of budget discipline.

FDP parliamentarian Christoph Meyer accused the Social Democrats and Greens of having an "unbridled spending addiction".

"Sometimes you have to knock the bottle of schnapps out of the mouth of an alcoholic", he told the Funke media group ahead of the coalition meeting.

Divisions over the budget threaten to bring an end to the coalition, if Scholz fails to back his finance minister, political scientist Juergen Falter told Bild before the meeting.

Much of the discord could be traced back to the fact that "the ideas of the Greens and the FDP simply do not fit together", he said.

Bringing their opposing views together was always going to be difficult, according to Falter. 

"Three-way alliances automatically have more explosive material," he said.

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