BERLIN — After a frantic week of political speed dating among five German political parties eager to form the next government, three of them took the first — very tentative — step Thursday toward forming a kind of alliance the country has not seen before, trying to bridge deep ideological divides.
On Thursday Olaf Scholz, Germany’s would-be next chancellor whose Social Democrats narrowly won last month’s election, met with the leaders of the Greens and the Free Democrats for their first talks — or, to be more precise, talks about more talks — on trying to create a coalition. All emerged sounding hopeful about their prospects.
After a lackluster campaign among candidates who seemed allergic to being interesting, the prospect of a three-way union sent the German news media into a tizzy of sexual innuendo — even before the party leaders turned off their phones, lowered the blinds, shut the door and did not emerge for hours on Thursday.
Journalists and political analysts have shown a limitless penchant for references to flirting, romance, affairs and, of course, a menage a trois — or, in German, a “flotter Dreier.” On the political talk show “Tough but Fair,” the host asked, “Who needs Tinder when the dating in Berlin has started so energetically?” The newsmagazine Der Spiegel asked Mr. Scholz in an interview whether he expected to find “love” in a three-way coalition.
“Affection,” he answered. Playing along with the metaphor, he added, “Real affection develops when you get seriously involved with each other.”
Jokes aside, the stakes are serious. To form Germany’s first three-party coalition since the 1950s, spanning the progressive Greens, the center-left Social Democrats and the libertarian Free Democrats, the leaders must resolve — or at least paper over — fundamental differences on taxes, regulation and the relative roles of government and business. None of the three has ever taken part in a three-party government before.
“Germany is learning politics all over again just now,” said Robert Habeck, a co-leader of the Greens. “And this learning means a certain willingness to be open to new processes.”
Whoever governs will lead Europe’s largest economy, at the heart of the European Union, struggling to find footing amid a pandemic, economic woes and the continuing American rivalry with China.
A shaky coalition would be a marked change from the long line of stolid postwar governments.
Usually, one faction, either the conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, or the Social Democrats were clearly dominant in coalitions with much weaker, dependent parties that worked hard but got little of the glory. For the last 12 years, there have been “grand coalitions” between the conservatives and Social Democrats, held together in large part by the popularity and authority of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“The system was very conservative but it always produced a stable match,” said John Kornblum, a former American ambassador to Germany who has been living in Berlin on and off since the 1960s. But these days, he pointed out, “monogamy is no longer an option.”
The two main parties have no appetite for working together again, Ms. Merkel is retiring, and no party won even 26 percent of the vote, giving the Free …….