In her capacity as the leader of the conservative CDU, Angela Merkel meets Thursday evening with the head of the Bavarian conservative party Horst Seehofer, Social Democratic (SPD) chairman Martin Schulz and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Here’s what you need to know ahead of their talks about the new possible German government. How did we get here? After the CDU/CSU outperformed the SPD in Germany’s September 24 national election, Merkel was charged with forming a government, while Schulz declared that the Social Democrats would go into the opposition. But the breakdown of talks to form a three-way coalition between conservatives, the center-right business-friendly Free Democratic Party and the Greens (FDP) has put the grand coalition back on the table as the only other realistic chance for a parliamentary majority. After pressure from within his own party, Schulz dropped his categorical opposition to continuing the current arrangement between Germany’s two largest political parties, traditionally rivals.
There is broad consensus between conservatives and Social Democrats on foreign policy and the European Union. Angela Merkel is a committed European, and conservatives have no problem with Social Democratic Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who would be more than happy to stay on in that post. The issue of refugees is also unlikely to be a deal-breaker, although the SPD and the conservatives would have to hammer out a compromise on a hard cap on the number of refugees Germany accepts annually and on whether family members have a right to come join all refugees.
Otherwise the two sides could likely reach consensus about popular initiatives like investing more in education, hiring more police officers and improving Germany’s mediocre digital infrastructure. A law governing immigration to Germany would be within the realm of possibility too.