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German Greens agree to start formal talks on new government

Annalena Baerbock, center, and Robert Habeck, federal leaders of the Greens, sit next to Robert Habeck, vote next to Katrin Goering-Eckardt, leader of the parliamentary group during a congress in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021. (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) -- Germany's Green party gave its blessing Sunday to opening formal coalition talks on a new government that would speed up the country's exit from coal-fueled power and the expansion of renewable energy.

    A congress of the environmentalist party signed off on negotiators' recommendation to open full-fledged talks on a government led by center-left Social Democrat Olaf Scholz. The pro-business Free Democrats, who usually ally with the center-right, would be the coalition's third partner. Their leadership is expected to give its approval on Monday.

    The proposed coalition could be "a big win for the Greens, for Germany," co-leader Robert Habeck told delegates. He added that "in the coming government, the Greens can take on more responsibility for our country than ever -- we will be drivers of major transformations."

    A preliminary agreement after initial exploratory talks calls for Germany to accelerate its exit from coal-fueled power, currently due by 2038, so it "ideally" happens by 2030. That is a key Green demand. It also pledges to speed up "drastically" Germany's expansion of renewable energy generation, but says there will be no overall speed limit on Germany's highways, which the Free Democrats opposed.

    There has been some criticism from climate activists that the plans so far don't go far enough, but little of that was heard at Sunday's meeting.

    The prospective partners say they won't raise taxes, something the Social Democrats and Greens had wanted for top earners and the Free Democrats opposed, but will step up and facilitate investment in combating climate change and promoting digitization. Details of how the coalition would finance its plans are expected to be a central question in the upcoming talks.

    Scholz hopes that his new government, which would send outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Union bloc into opposition, will be in place by Christmas. Scholz's Social Democrats finished narrowly ahead of the Union to win Germany's Sept. 26 election, with the Greens third and the Free Democrats fourth.

    The Greens are the only prospective partner that so far has pledged to put a possible coalition agreement to a ballot of its entire membership.

    This would be the Greens' second time as part of a German government. They were the junior partners from 1998-2005 in a two-party center-left coalition under then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

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