Although they won 41.5 per cent of the vote in the recent German elections, the CDU and CSU parties narrowly missed gaining an absolute majority. Should Angela Merkel prefer not to go it alone over the next four years, she needs to find a partner. But the question is, with whom?
Merkel's previous coalition partner, the FDP, missed the five per cent minimum threshold, so the liberals will not be represented in the next Bundestag, while the left-wing Die Linke party (8.6 per cent) will definitely not be considered as a partner. This leaves the SPD (25.7 per cent) and the Greens (8.4 per cent) as potential coalition partners.
"German insistence on fiscal consolidation in the crisis countries might soften a little, but would not disappear" - Roland Freudenstein
It would probably not be such a significant change for Europe if there emerged a grand coalition between the CDU and the Social Democrats, according to Roland Freudenstein from the Centre for European Studies. "German insistence on fiscal consolidation in the crisis countries might soften a little, but would not disappear. A commitment to Eurobonds is still unlikely because the CDU/CSU's middle class core electorate is so opposed to them", he said.
Another option for Merkel could be a partnership with the Greens. According to analysis by the European council on foreign relations, "the Green party has been much more euro-friendly and critical of Merkel's austerity-focused recovery strategy than the Social Democrats, calling for a debt-redemption pact and a symmetric adjustment of current account imbalances alongside stronger policy integration.
However, it isn't clear whether a CDU-Green coalition would actually be more euro-friendly than a grand coalition. Under a CDU-Green coalition, there would be a danger that the SPD becomes slightly more sceptical towards rescue packages and forces the government to appear tough in the defence of German interests."
Considering the behaviour of the SPD and the Greens in previous votes, however it is unlikely that either a Grand Coalition or a CDU-Green coalition will drastically change Germany's European policy. Votes related to European policy in the Bundestag, such as the consent to the European stability mechanism, were always passed with strong support from the SPD and the Greens.
A third option for Merkel could be a minority government. On the federal level such an assembly has never existed and the few trials that have occurred at state level have mostly failed. As unlikely as Merkel going it alone – but mathematically possible – is a coalition without Merkel between the SPD, the Greens and Die Linke. However, such a liaison is not very popular within the SPD and Greens themselves.
The scale of distrust towards Europe in Germany was highlighted in the success of the Eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party. Founded at the beginning of the year, AfD's aim is to exit the Euro. They garnered almost two million votes and grabbed 4.7 per cent of the vote, prompting popular pro-European socialist MEP Jo Leinen to say that, "European policy needs to be better and more intensively discussed with the people in Germany."
Merkel has invited the SPD for a first round of negotiations on 4 October before she meets the Greens a week later. Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Socialists in the European parliament, has already encouraged the SPD to, "take up the mandate the voters have given them" and demonstrate responsibility within a grand coalition.
"For a social Europe it would be best to have a big coalition with the SPD, if Merkel accepts a social profile for the EU", he tweeted on election night.