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Forming A Coalition Is Distracting Chancellor Merkel, Critics Say


So in the span of two months, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has gone from being Forbes magazine's most powerful woman in the world to a leader largely absent from the international stage. She's in trouble because three months after elections in Germany, Merkel has not been able to form a new government. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin that this crisis is not likely to end anytime soon.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Angela Merkel is reluctant to commit Germany to anything these days. Take her recent news conference in Brussels with French President Emmanuel Macron. The French leader wants to bring EU member states closer politically and economically, and desperately needs Germany's support for his plans. But the German chancellor couldn't give it to him.



NELSON: Merkel told reporters, there will be a joint vision for EU reforms, but that it will take time. She said the next step in the discussion won't come before next March and possibly June.


MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Back in Berlin, Merkel explains her reasons. She said she chose those dates because by then she hopes to be heading a new government. She said any new direction in Germany's foreign policy decisions would need input from her new governing partner. She needs that partner because her conservatives did not win an outright majority in the parliamentary elections. That's left Germany in political limbo and Merkel adding another milestone to her accomplishments. She's the chancellor who has taken the longest to form a new German government.

JOSEF JANNING: On the European level, she's clearly distracted, and she's also constrained in what she can do.

NELSON: Josef Janning heads the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

JANNING: That is weakening Germany's role in Europe, even though Merkel, in the circle of the European Council, is as respected and as experienced as she used to be. But she doesn't have the largest member state and its possibilities in hand at this point in time.

NELSON: Her weakness has emboldened her detractors within the European Union. They are trampling on key policies she's led on, like a mandate to redistribute refugees among bloc states to ease the pressure on Greece and Italy, where most asylum-seekers first enter Europe. Janning says other programs could stall as well, like the EU's new joint security defense pact. Key talks on EU financing for the next seven years are also scheduled for 2018.

JANNING: These negotiations will probably be the toughest budget negotiations that we have ever seen, and with Germany not active, it's going to be very odd because a lot of the debate will depend on where Germany wants to go.

NELSON: For now Merkel has no choice but to focus her undivided attention on ending the political crisis at home. Talks resume in the new year between her conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats, and they are, at best, lukewarm about forming a new government with Merkel.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAUSCHKA'S "ELIZABETH BAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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