It’s going to be a while before Europe’s most powerful country has a stable government – and Angela Merkel probably won’t be leading it.
As little as an hour before midnight Sunday night, there was a flicker of light at the end of the long tunnel — at least three of the four German parties participating in the laborious exploratory coalition talks thought so.
Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Greens, and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) had been hunkered down in tense, complicated negotiations for nearly five weeks, by all accounts the going was extremely tough: Never before had such a broad, diverse constellation of parties been the only workable coalition option possible in light of the outcome of a national election. Immediately after the Sept. 24 vote, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Christian Democrats’ partner in power for eight of the last 12 years, categorically refused to be Chancellor Angela Merkel’s sidekick for another term, having recorded its worst showing ever in the September vote — a disaster that the Social Democrats attributed directly to Merkel’s political style.
This left the four unlikely bedfellows, whose agendas span the political spectrum, to hash it out between them and find a way to rule Europe’s economic powerhouse and mainstay of stability. But they failed to do so, and what the near future holds — for Merkel, Germany, and Europe as a whole — is clouded by the events of the past sleepless weekend.
The collapse of the talks has thrown Germany into profound political crisis, casting it into waters the country has no experience in navigating: Never before in German postwar history has an election been repeated due to the inability to form a governing majority coalition. Nor since the days of the interwar Weimar Republic have Germany’s democratic parties been under such pressure from the far-right, which stands to gain whether there are fresh elections or not. Moreover, the unexpected turn of events further undermines Merkel’s authority, putting her in an even weaker position than where she had landed after the September vote, in which her CDU and the CSU fared significantly worse than expected — and a far-right party entered the Bundestag for the first time in its history.