There was no doubt there would be a gender dimension to Germany’s new cabinet.
With Angela Merkel still in charge of Germany’s biggest party, the Christian Democratic Union, it was only a matter of time before an equal number of men and women would be assigned to take portfolios – and neither Marisa Soldat, leader of the coalition talks, nor Merkel herself had any hesitation in telling journalists that such a move was likely.
So what, exactly, would come next for Germany’s cabinet?
What we do know for sure is that following the defeat of the CDU/CSU in the state of Lower Saxony on 9 November, Merkel has faced calls to split up her conservative alliance in government and form a grand coalition of centrist parties with the Social Democrats (SPD).
But even if she agreed to a joint deal with Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, it’s not clear she could negotiate it with Merkel’s Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU).
One possible outcome is a “Jamaica” coalition – consisting of CDU, CSU and SPD. A Jamaica may be considered to be the most optimistic outcome of the six possible coalitions.
The AfD (Alternative for Germany) voted at the state of Hesse on 1 December to form an alliance with the Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens.
Or Germany could just have a minority government (happening less often) in which the new government would work in a caretaker capacity until the next election.
Merkel was in Hesse and as expected, she saw that coalition off. She is still in charge, but perhaps as a caretaker.
Negotiations are under way between her CDU, the CSU and the SPD on that proposed grand coalition.
“It is hard to imagine this can be built”, said Leon Schmitz, who was in Lower Saxony for the election, as he recalled Merkel’s leadership over the years to manage Germany’s biggest elections in a generation.
The scepticism of the election winner’s party towards such a future deal is not surprising. Martin Schulz declared after the election that he would reject a grand coalition “in principle”, and may well do so with Merkel’s CDU.
Another new player on the scene is the AfD, which won 14.5% of the vote in Lower Saxony, while in the federal vote the AfD won nearly 13%.
Merkel has been facing these new rivals, some of whom have been dubbed “the new Merkel”, by the German media since the results of the federal election were announced in September.
“She’s not dead, she’s just recovering”, was the comic hypothesis of one German publication.
And in the meantime, the new grand coalition is on its way: it will be between CSU and SPD, rather than the CDU and SPD.
These are both coalitions with a feminist character, bearing the names Gabriel and Schulz – and both men are experienced legislators, and not that disadvantaged, at least in terms of parliamentary experience.
Schulz is first, the SPD’s leader for years in the European Parliament, from 2004 to 2016; Gabriel is the outgoing head of the German economy ministry. And Schulz was himself the first-ever president of the European Parliament (2005-07).
But Schulz is also known for his activism against women’s rights abuses.
In 2002, he rejected calls to expel too many Kosovo Albanian refugees from Hungary because they are men, since he believed women were not at risk.
In 2014, he was one of the loudest voices against the arrest of a Ukrainian opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, in Germany.
So with this in mind, some say the new grand coalition will be the most “gender-equal” one ever, at least in the “longer term” – if history is any guide.
There is also the possibility of a coalition of the Greens and the AfD.
This was the Green Party’s candidate who held a congress in Baden-Württemberg on the same day as the state elections in Lower Saxony.
Christoph Steitz had said before the elections that he would not take part in any coalitions, but suggested he might in a second chance coalition with the Greens.
That is where Gabriel is coming from. He may not want to, but he must try and convince Schulz that it is worth it.