German Chancellor Angela Merkel has struggled to stay in power following the September elections that forced her Christian Democrats (CDU) to form a coalition government with other parties.
Talks to form that coalition failed earlier this month when the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) walked away from three-way talks with Merkel’s bloc and the Greens on November 19th.
While German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and others urged parties to continue negotiations, Merkel suggested the country should let the people decide by holding another election.
The Social Democrats (SPD), who initially rejected the idea of joining with Merkel, are now starting to reconsider their position.
“On Friday, the SPD reversed a previous decision and agreed to talk to Merkel, raising the possibilities of a new ‘grand coalition’ which has ruled Germany for the last four years, or of a minority government,” reports Reuters.
One of the largest roadblocks in negotiations thus far has been immigration – an issue that has been in the spotlight following Merkel’s open door policies that allowed over 1 million migrants into the country. Merkel says she doesn’t regret the decision, but has promised to limit the number of migrants entering Germany each year to 200,000.
Such limits will not sit well with Merkel’s potential SPD partners, who believe an immigration cap is a breach of the constitution and the Geneva Convention.
“With the SPD there will be no limit put on family members who want to join asylum seekers,” said prominent SPD member Ralf Stegner.
The situation is complex for the SPD, which scored its worst result since 1933 in September’s election.
SPD leader Martin Schultz is under pressure from members who worry that another coalition with Merkel will backfire.
“The SPD should only open itself up to another coalition with Merkel if it wants to commit suicide,” said MP Marco Bülow. “We’ve tried it twice, and each time we ended up with our face in the mud.” The SPD was part of coalition governments that formed after Merkel’s elections in 2005 and 2013 (but not in 2009).
Instead, Bülow would like to see the SPD lend a CDU-Green minority government support on passing a budget in return for higher pensions and infrastructure investments.
On the other side of the fence are SPD members who argue that a minority government lacks the stability necessary to respond to current challenges within the EU, including proposals by the French President on euro zone reforms and Brexit.
“An alliance of the conservatives and SPD is the best option for Germany – better anyway than a coalition with the Free Democrats and Greens, new elections, or a minority government,” says Horst Seehofer, head of the Bavarian CSU.
Opinion polls show that over 50% of Germans favor a grand coalition over new elections.
And underneath it all is the widespread fear that Europe will fall apart without Merkel’s leadership.
“No leader is indispensable, but it does feel like the future of Europe stands or falls with Angela Merkel. She’s been the godmother of the European Union for almost 15 years, and other leaders have learnt to accept one unspoken rule: Merkel is the adjudicator…But now she’s at risk of losing her power, and even her enemies fear that her absence will pull Europe in different and conflicting directions,” writes Fredrik Erixon in The Spectator.
Merkel and Schultz will meet with President Steinmeier on Thursday, but coalition talks are unlikely to begin until January.