German election: what are Angela Merkel's options?

The German chancellor's CDU party has won an impressive 41.5% of the vote, but now faces the task of forming a coalition

Angela Merkel has been feted for winning her party its best result in 20 years, and even pushing it close to an absolute majority – an unusual outcome in coalition-friendly Germany. Now she faces a dilemma: after the collapse of the Free Liberals, who failed to get into government for the first time in their history, Merkel's CDU is without its traditional coalition-partner. So what are her options?

1) Minority rule

Theoretically, the CDU could lead a minority government. However, she would be facing three parties in opposition that wouldn't forgive her the slightest slip-up – hardly a satisfying solution while the eurozone crisis continues. In Monday's press conference Merkel categorically ruled out minority rule: "We want a stable government."

Verdict: highly unlikely

2) SPD-Die Linke-Greens

Amid Sunday night's Merkel mania, it was easily missed that the final election results at around half past midnight gave a coalition between the three parties on the political left – the SPD, the Greens and Die Linke – a majority of 42.7% (against the CDU's 41.5%). However, while Die Linke has repeatedly called for such a coalition, both the SPD and the Greens have ruled it out for now. Working with Die Linke, some of whose politicians started out in the GDR's ruling Communist party, would make a left coalition vulnerable to attacks from the right and is still considered a taboo in Germany. At any rate, the majority would be too small to guarantee a stable government.

Verdict: highly unlikely

3) CDU-Greens

Only about six months ago, this was a much discussed possibility for the future of German politics. The Greens had selected a vice-candidate, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, who seemed to symbolise a more conservative, centrist direction for the party, away from the focus on environmental issues.

There is, arguably, some overlap between the two parties' emphasis on Nachhaltigkeit ("sustainability") and responsible use of resources (environmental in the case of the Greens, fiscal in the case of the CDU). In an interview on Sunday night, the vice-candidate Jürgen Trittin seemed to express openness towards such an option.

But a mere glance at the two party programmes highlights the possibility of several bust-ups down the road. On gay marriage, dual citizenship, drugs policy and tax reliefs, the two parties are miles apart. And the Greens will remember the curse of the Merkel hug: each of the parties that the chancellor has entered a coalition with has ended up with massive losses when she released them from her grip.

Verdict: unlikely, but not out of the question

4) Grand coalition (CDU-SPD)

The two parties agree in many policy areas, and Merkel's first term in government, a coalition with the Social Democrats, was considered a success – for her. The SPD were punished for cosying up too closely with the Conservatives and ended up with the worst result in their history, in 2009 – so they will think carefully before repeating the arrangement and may make life more difficult for her. In a press conference at Monday lunchtime Merkel confirmed that she had had her first informal talks with the SPD, and said she "doesn't rule out taking these talks further".

Verdict: likely


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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