On Sunday evening, talks ongoing for weeks between Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party collapsed when FDP officials walked out.
Disagreements among the parties are over immigration, environmental, energy and European status issues.
“The four discussion partners have no common vision for modernization of the country or common basis of trust,” FDP leader Christian Lindner announced after four-party talks broke down.
“It is better not to govern than to govern badly, he added. So what’s next?
At stake is Merkel remaining chancellor. After weeks of failure to find common ground, continuing talks won’t likely alter major differences between the positions of negotiating parties.
Merkel has options. Germany’s constitution doesn’t prescribe a deadline for forming a government after elections.
She can remain in power as a caretaker chancellor, hoping for eventual compromise, her authority weakened as a lame duck internally and as EU leader, risking party challenges to her leadership.
She could seek a new coalition alliance with the SPD, her former partner, even though the party ruled out another one.
She could seek parliamentary support to head a minority government, requiring a majority of MP votes. If successful, she’d remain chancellor.
If not, she’d risk being out of power. Bundestag rules call for up to three rounds of voting in these situations. If Merkel failed twice, a plurality the third time might keep her in office, not if coalition officials want her replaced.
Or she could call new elections, a huge risk after her CDU/CSU alliance had their worst showing in September since the 1940s with only 33% support, perhaps weakened more than already or voted out of power a second time around.
Merkel is left with a Hobson’s choice. All her options are fraught with possible trouble. Are her days numbered?
She’s been German chancellor since 2005. Though still the favorite among Germans as the nation’s leader, her popularity is lowest in a decade.
She might lose a second election after a poor September showing. Whatever the outcome, the hard-right AfD could gain more seats at the expense of the CDU/CSU coalition. In September, it won 12.6% of the votes, enough to have MPs in the Bundestag for the first time in its history.
With things unsettled nearly two months after September elections, CDU/SDU officials could decide Merkel is damaged goods and replace her.