For four months, Germany—that reputed pillar of stability in a tumultuous Europe—limped along without a government. The country’s elections in September not only failed to deliver a clear governing majority for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, but it also brought unprecedented gains for the populist party Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD), marking the first time a far-right party would enter German’s national parliament in nearly six decades. The Social Democrats, who had served as the coalition partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party for nearly a decade, refused to join her again, preferring instead to lead the opposition. But no one would form a government with the AfD either. The result: Deadlock.
Which is when a 23-hour marathon negotiating session resulted in a compromise that would return the very same kind of grand coalition that has governed the country for eight years. Faced with the prospect of new elections (which polls projected would earn them yet another crushing defeat), the Social Democrats decided they could work with Merkel after all. And after months of uncertainty, the Germans ended up roughly where they started.
Yet there were some differences. The Social Democrats, despite their comparatively poor showing in the September election, walked away from the coalition negotiations with some notable wins, including control of the coveted foreign, finance, and labor ministries. Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) also lost their hold on the interior ministry to a more-conservative politician from their sister party, the CSU. “The CDU, even though they have the largest share of the votes, doesn’t have any of the key ministries,” Marcel Dirsus, a political scientist at the University of Kiel, told me, noting that “Merkel paid a very steep price” to get this government.