In what is perhaps the worst crisis of Angela Merkel’s political career, Germany has been witnessing its most protracted political stalemate—federal elections held in September 2017 presented inconclusive results, and the country’s future has since been mired in uncertainty. Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, and its Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union, secured 33 percent of the votes—their worst electoral result since 1949. The CSU-CDU alliance lost 65 seats compared to its 2013 election victory, though they remain the largest force in the German parliament, Bundestag.
In order to secure a majority, Merkel’s alliance must form a coalition government, but negotiations among the country’s political parties have resulted in a four-month long deadlock, which is still ongoing. The Social Democrats Party, or SPD, which obtained 21 percent votes and 153 seats to become the second-largest party in last year’s elections, also saw its worst electoral performance. Though Martin Schulz, the head of the SPD, had initially ruled out the possibility of a repeat of the incumbent “grand coalition” with the CDU, the parties started fresh negotiations after tripartite talks between the CDU-CSU alliance, the Free Democrats Party and the left-leaning Green Party collapsed in mid November.
Schulz and Merkel recently concluded negotiations to form government, in which Merkel had to make significant concessions, including awarding the finance ministry to the SPD. But the coalition has yet to be approved by a membership vote of the SPD, in which around 464,000 members of the party will vote on the alliance with Merkel. According to a Reuters report, Schulz stated that he was optimistic about the vote, the results of which will be announced on 4 March. He also stated that, for the SPD, the coalition deal marked a “fundamental change in the direction of Europe.” But the September elections reflected a fundamental shift in German politics for another reason as well—the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won 13 percent of the votes and 92 seats, and became the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag since the Second World War.