Just a few seats short of a majority, 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.
The big question following Sunday's general election was who would take the place of Chancellor 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 had already raised questions whether the center-left SPD could enter into another grand coalition with Merkel's Christian Democrats if the FDP lost. With 25.7 percent of the vote the SPD would provide a large amount of seats to the CDU/CSU, which won 41.5 percent of the vote and fell only five seats short of a majority.
The liberal party, FDP, won only 4.8 percent of the vote, failing to surpass the 5-percent threshold needed to enter parliament, the first-ever fall from parliamentary representation in the Bundestag since post-war elections 64 years ago.
Euro-policy 'won't change'
Coalition talks will require potential coalition partners to establish clear common ground before agreeing to form a government. Austerity policies in the eurozone 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 euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party's failure to garner 5 percent on Sunday.
"The course in European policy will not change," Merkel said.
As Merkel enjoyed her third victory, Germany's other leading politicians spent Monday speculating about their political futures.
FDP chief Philipp Rösler, who also serves as vice chancellor and finance minister, announced his resignation from the party leadership. The 40-year-old lamented the party's "severe and enormous" defeat which had resulted in its removal from the Bundestag.
Röslers's replacement has not yet been announced, however, the FDP's North Rhine-Westphalia young party chief, Christian Lindner, is expected to be selected at the next party convention.
In light of the harsh political fallout for FDP cabinet members, the SPD said it would enter into talks with Merkel, but indicated its wariness of entering into a grand coalition with her.
"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 told reporters in Berlin.
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 the polls, winning only 23 percent. The FDP dropped by nearly 10 percent in polls compared to the 2009 election when they entered into a coalition with Merkel's Coalition Democrats.
Greens call new party vote
Meanwhile, the Greens - who could mathematically form a coalition with the CDU/CSU given its 8.4 percent haul on Sunday - announced it would have new leadership elections at the next party convention this fall.
Party co-chairs Claudia Roth and Cem Özdemir told reporters in Berlin on Monday the six-person federal party committee and 16-member party council would resign. While Özdemir said he planned on running for reelection within the Greens party, Roth announced on Tuesday that she would withdraw from politics.
The Greens' top leaders, Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Jürgen Trittin, said it was necessary to reevaluate the party's strategies and message after falling from 10.7 percent in 2009 to 8.4 on Sunday.
It seems unlikely the environmental, pacifist party would form a government with Merkel's Christian Democrats, however, its leadership indicated on Monday they were not ruling out the possibility of talks.
The Left Party - made up of members of the communist party from former East Germany and SPD renegades - could also use its 8.6 percent to help the SPD and the Greens form a majority.
But this is not seen as a realistic possibility, either, as the Social Democrats have repeatedly ruled out working with the Left at a federal level.
kms/rg (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)
For more background on the German election see www.dw.de/germanelections