The German election result means that a three party coalition will almost certainly be needed to form a government. Olaf Scholz, the SPD leader, has made clear just now that he is going to try and form a coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats.
Scholz has a strong claim on the chancellery. The SPD came first in the election and polls consistently showed that he was Germans’ preferred choice for candidate. Despite being from a different party, Scholz successfully positioned himself as the Merkel continuity candidate. The results might suggest a shift to the left among the German electorate. But German voters clearly want more Merkelism. Armin Laschet’s biggest error was to fail to convince voters that he was her heir despite being from the same party as her.
A traffic light coalition would not mark a radical departure from the policies of the Merkel-led grand coalition of the Christian Democrats and the SPD. (It might not even, given the Free Democrats’ position, mark a further shift towards more recovery-fund style debt sharing in the Eurozone.) While the two party hold on German politics is slipping, German politics remains firmly in the centre — neither the Left party nor the AfD had a breakthrough in this election.
It will take some time for a coalition to be formed. Merkel is likely to still be the German Chancellor at the next EU Council meeting in October. But whoever succeeds her will take time to build up the authority that Merkel had in these meetings. Emmanuel Macron will undoubtedly use the coming French presidency not only to try and boost his own already strong re-election prospects but also to attempt to position himself as the dominant figure in the council.