Bavaria's governing CSU party got less than 39 percent of the home state vote on September 24 — about ten points less than in 2013 elections. Its leadership is now under enormous pressure to step down or move further to the right to fight the rapidly growing right-wing AfD party in next year's Bavarian state elections.
That would make it very difficult for Merkel's CDU to forge a common political program with the CSU and the left-leaning Green party. The CSU's revered late leader and former Bavarian Minister-President Franz Josef Strauss used to say that "there must be no democratically legitimate party to the right of CSU," and that "the Greens are like tomatoes; first they are green and then they turn red."
At the moment, some of Merkel's closest advisors see the coalition talks dragging well into the early months of next year.
The leaders of the German Socialist Party (SPD) have much darker forecasts. They expect that Merkel will not be able to form the next government with CSU, Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). In that case, and if Merkel were to step down, SPD would be ready to create again a stable government in a grand coalition with CDU and CSU.
Meanwhile, Germany's prolonged interregnum will leave France in a state of limbo. French President Emmanuel Macron has staked his political future on painful labor market reforms, demanded by Germany, hoping that he would get Berlin's support for far-reaching EU and euro area institutional changes to placate his powerful left- and right-wing Eurosceptic opponents at home.
All Macron has to show for that so far are falling approval ratings, social unrest, massive street demonstrations, rolling strikes and unemployment rising to 5.6 million people at the end of August. And, yes, he got a vague and useless encouragement by Merkel, along with a bazooka from her putative coalition partner FDP that new layers of EU bureaucracy were not needed, and that the money of German taxpayers would not be used to bail out fiscal miscreants in southern Europe.
What now? Miffed by German hectoring, some French politicians think that France, Italy and Spain should move ahead and begin implementing Macron's proposals for "Europe's renewal."
How feasible and credible would that be?
Laboring under an unstable minority government, Madrid is struggling to keep Catalonia, one-fifth of the Spanish economy, within the Kingdom of Spain.
An estimated 41 percent of the Catalan population wants independence. Those people are unlikely to settle for more autonomy, but, under current circumstances, they cannot legally split from a unitary state. Still, the Catalan secessionist drive is a difficult sociopolitical, constitutional and moral issue, and it remains to be seen how Spain and the EU democracy lecturers to the Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) will deal with that.
Italy is also an unlikely partner to support the French EU reforms. The next general elections will probably take place in May of next year. The Democratic Party is the only pro-European political formation, but it is currently polling only at about 27 percent. The real kingmakers are likely to be the three center-right Eurosceptic parties Forza Italia, Lega Nord and Fratelli d'Italia. They are getting 36 percent of the popular vote.