Just a few seats short of a majority, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she's ready to begin coalition talks with the center-left SPD, but with animosity on both sides, it's not quite clear who will be courting whom, according to German analysts.
The big question following final preliminary federal election results on Monday was who would take the place of Merkel's junior coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
Chancellor Merkel told reporters on Monday she and the CDU/CSU had already contacted the SPD chairman, Sigmar Gabriel. We are open to talks, Merkel said.
Speculation in the run-up to federal elections raised questions whether the center-left SPD could enter into another grand coalition with Merkel's Christian Democrats if the FDP lost. With 24.7% of the vote, according to final preliminary results, the SPD would provide a large amount of seats to the CDU/CSU, which won 41.5% of the vote and fell only five seats short of a majority.
The Liberal party won only 4.8% of the vote, failing to surpass the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament, the first-ever fall from national power for the party since post-war elections.
Coalition talks will require potential coalition partners to establish clear common ground before agreeing to form a government. Austerity policies in the Euro-zone have already caused disagreement between the CDU/CSU and SPD, which tends to favor a somewhat softer implementation of cost-cutting measures. However, the chancellor made clear her party had no intention of compromising on changing direction.
The election result was a very strong mandate from the voters to exercise responsibility in Germany's interest in Europe and in the world, and also a strong mandate for a united Europe, she said, referring to the Euro-skeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party's failure to garner 5%t on Sunday.
The course in European policy will not change, Merkel said.
SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel told reporters on Monday his party would accept an invitation to coalition talks, but emphasized that a grand coalition, no matter how large a majority the two parties would have in parliament, was not a foregone conclusion.
The SPD is neither waiting in line nor applying for the job [as coalition partner] after Merkel ruined her current coalition partner, SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel said on Monday. Peer Steinbrück, SPD's candidate for chancellor, echoed Gabriel's sentiment.
Merkel has earned the reputation as a politician who administers the kiss of death to allies. Following the 2009 elections, her then coalition partner, the SPD, dropped sharply in polls, winning only 23%. The FDP dropped by nearly 10% in polls compared to the 2009 election when they entered into a coalition with Merkel's CDU.
Based on preliminary results, the CDU/CSU will have 311 seats in the new Bundestag, five short of a majority.
Merkel could also form a coalition with the Greens, which won 8.6% on Sunday.
However, the lack of common ground with the center-right party has drawn skepticism from the Greens.
The Left - the successor of the communist party from former East Germany - could bring its 8.4% to help the SPD and the Greens form a majority. This is not seen as a realistic possibility as the Social Democrats have repeatedly ruled out working with the Left at a federal level.
Nevertheless Sunday’s result leaves Merkel as one of the few European leaders to survive the debt crisis, which has seen 19 of her EU peers lose their jobs since the start of 2010.