German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to form a government, but her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) does not have enough seats. She started negotiations with the leaders of three smaller parties, which broke down on Nov. 19. Currently there is a lot of discussion about a possible resumption of a “grand coalition” — between Merkel’s center-right party and the center-left — among the CDU, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The SPD was initially resistant to the idea, but is now coming around. Here’s what that means for German politics.
A new grand coalition would have three benefits for Merkel and the CDU/CSU. First, it would allow Germany to emerge from its current political stalemate, which might start to hurt Merkel’s standing if it continues. Second, a grand coalition would be stable because the coalition partners would hold a 46-seat majority in Germany’s Bundestag (parliament). Third, since the last government was also a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD, there would be none of the tumult in terms of changing policy and personnel that happens when parties that have been out of power for a long time reenter government.
However, returning to the status quo is also risky for Merkel and her party. The CDU/CSU has been the most successful political grouping in postwar Germany. They have been the senior partner in government 70 percent of the time. They have been so successful because they did not allow significant political parties to emerge to their right, but that has changed. Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open Germany to asylum seekers created a political opening on the right for the upstart far-right party, the Alliance for Germany.