* Social Democrats (SPD) win - provisional results
* SPD's Scholz to start sounding out potential coalition
* Conservative Laschet also vows to seek coalition
* Chancellor Angela Merkel did not seek a fifth term
BERLIN, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Germany's Social Democrats were
set on Monday to start the process of trying to form a
government after they narrowly won their first national election
since 2005 to end 16 years of conservative-led rule under Angela
The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) won 25.7% of the
vote, ahead of 24.1% for Merkel's CDU/CSU conservative bloc,
according to provisional results. The Greens came in at 14.8%
and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) were on 11.5%.
The Social Democrats' chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/german-leadership-race-boring-olaf-bets-craving-stability-2021-09-21
said he hoped to strike a coalition deal before Christmas,
his conservative rival Armin Laschet said he could still try to
form a government despite coming in second.
Merkel will stay in charge in a caretaker role during the
coalition negotiations https://reut.rs/2ZeqYw3 that will set
the future course of Europe's largest economy.
On Monday, the parties will start sounding each other out
about possible alliances in informal discussions.
In order to secure a majority in parliament, the SPD is
likely to seek a three-way alliance with the Greens and the FDP,
although the two parties could also team up with the
If Scholz, 63, succeeds in forming a coalition, he would
become the fourth post-war SPD chancellor after Willy Brandt,
Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schroeder. Finance minister in
Merkel's cabinet, he is a former mayor of Hamburg.
The SPD's rise heralds a swing left for Germany and marks a
remarkable comeback for the party, which has recovered some 10
points in support in just three months to improve on its 20.5%
result in the 2017 national election.
But Laschet, 60, still hung on to the possibility that he
could be chancellor, even though he led the conservatives to
their worst ever election result.
COALITION FOR CHRISTMAS?
Merkel has stood large on the European stage almost since
taking office in 2005 - when George W. Bush was U.S. president,
Jacques Chirac in the Elysee Palace in Paris and Tony Blair
British prime minister.
But Berlin's allies in Europe and beyond will probably have
to wait for months before they can see how the new German
government will engage on foreign issues.
Assuming the SPD agree a deal with the Greens and the FDP,
the Greens could provide the foreign minister, as they did with
Joschka Fischer in their previous two-way alliance with the SPD,
while the FDP is seeking the finance ministry.
A row between Washington and Paris over a deal for Australia
to buy U.S. instead of French submarines has put Germany in an
awkward spot between allies, but also gives Berlin the chance to
help heal relations and rethink their common stance on China.
On hearing that the SPD were slightly ahead in polls, U.S.
President Joe Biden told reporters in Washington: "I'll be
darned... They're solid."
On economic policy, French President Emmanuel Macron is
eager to forge a common European fiscal policy, which the Greens
support but the CDU/CSU and FDP reject. The Greens also want "a
massive expansion offensive for renewables https://reut.rs/2T1UKS3
One thing is certain: the future government will not include
the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) which scored 10.3%,
a fall from four years ago when they stormed into the national
parliament with 12.6% of the vote. All mainstream politicians
rule out a coalition with the party.
(Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)