Germany: A menu of bad options

These are tumultuous times, and Europe needs steady German leadership. The sooner a government is formed the better

Angela Merkel had a bad election, and her party's efforts to form a coalition have not gone much better. The result of September's poll left Merkel well-placed to secure a fourth term in office, but the poor showing of her Christian Democratic alliance – its worst since 1949 – left her stature diminished. Now, with the collapse of coalition talks between Merkel's bloc, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, the acting chancellor is faced with a dilemma that will test her vaunted political skills.

With little appetite for a minority administration, the return of a grand coalition including Merkel's alliance and the Social Democrats (SPD) appears to be the only alternative to fresh elections. Each side has reason to be wary of resuming their cohabitation. For Merkel, presuming her leadership was not an obstacle to a deal, it would guarantee another term as chancellor and allow her to bow out on her own terms. It would also avert an election that would risk giving a further boost to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

Another grand coalition is being sold as the least worst option. It carries big risks, however

But the SPD could demand a high price for its support. The centre-left party was preparing for some much-needed time in opposition to regroup after a bruising election. There is no guarantee that the talks will succeed – a row this week over a new licence for a controversial chemical underlined the tension in the air – but, given the circumstances, another grand coalition is being sold as the least worst option. It carries big risks, however. Whatever the message delivered by German voters, it was plainly not full-throated endorsement for the left-right grouping that has run Germany for eight of the past 12 years. If the two parties come together again, AfD will become the major opposition force. For the battered SPD in particular, the backlash could be intolerable.

These are tumultuous times, and Europe needs steady German leadership. The sooner a government is formed the better. But holding out for a strong, coherent administration would be far better than settling for a weak, tired and riven coalition tomorrow. If that means another election, so be it.

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