By Madeline Chambers
BERLIN (Reuters) – Barring an upset, the main uncertainty surrounding Europe’s most important election this year is not whether Angela Merkel will continue to lead Germany after next week’s vote, but who with and how long they will take to get going.
Although a surprise cannot be ruled out in the wake of any Russian interference, pollsters say they are confident about their surveys, which show Merkel’s conservatives winning the most seats in the Bundestag lower house.
The far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) is set to enter parliament for the first time, and some experts have said it may gain more support than the roughly 10 percent polls suggest, an alarming prospect for many at home and abroad.
But all the other parties have ruled out joining it in a coalition – an inherent part of Germany’s electoral system – and the most likely scenario is probably a repeat of Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’ with the Social Democrats (SPD).
She will start sounding out partners right after the Sept. 24 vote, but coalition building is a protracted process, which could paralyze policy for months at a time when Brexit has shaken Europe’s foundations.
The process is especially complex this time as the number of parliamentary groups could rise to six from four. Informal soundings and then exploratory talks precede formal coalition negotiations and party leaders may also seek approval from their members before signing off on any deal.
Depending on the shape of the coalition, the main issues at stake are the integration of the more than 1 million migrants who have arrived in Germany in the last two years, and investment in Europe’s biggest economy as well as Merkel’s leading role in talks on reform of the European Union and relations with Russia and Turkey.
Here are the main scenarios:
CONSERVATIVES, SOCIAL DEMOCRATS (‘GRAND COALITION’)
The most likely option, according to opinion polls. Merkel’s parliamentary party, made up of her Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) has governed with the SPD for eight of the 12 years that Merkel has been chancellor, including the last four.
WHAT MAKES IT POSSIBLE: Merkel, who has steered the conservatives toward the political center ground, looks comfortable ruling with the SPD. Such a coalition would likely have a large majority, provide continuity and broadly agree on Europe, Turkey, foreign policy, migration and security issues.
HURDLES: It is a last resort for both sides,…