ELISE HU, HOST:
One of the most politically stable countries in Europe is in crisis today. Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany for 12 years. But her party didn't have a great showing in elections back in September, so she's been trying to build a coalition government. But those talks broke down last night. To talk this through, we are joined by NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Hi, Soraya.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Hi, Elise.
HU: So it's being called one of the more disastrous 24 hours in German history since World War II. Is that an exaggeration?
NELSON: Well, I think you'd find many Germans who say no. (Laughter) It's really quite the crisis here - lots of jokes and memes even online where people talk about the Berlin airport, which is very controversial for its delays many, many years, being faster or coming together faster than this government was.
I mean, the problem is you have four divergent parties. Two of them are Merkel's conservative faction. And then you have the left-leaning Greens and the business-friendly and libertarian Free Democrats. And after four weeks of talks that sometimes went on 15 hours a day, they just couldn't come to an agreement.
HU: Was it just the more controversial issue of migration in Germany that led to the collapse of these talks?
NELSON: Well, that's certainly what dragged it out for a long time. It's one of the key issues. But there was also a lot of political drama in the sense of when it came to the Free Democrats, which were the ones that actually ended the talks. Their leader, Christian Lindner, just walked out and said, you know, this group of people who are getting together to form a government - they just don't have a modernized German in their future. They can't even form a coalition.
HU: So the German president now has several options, including calling a new election. What does he plan to do?
NELSON: Well, the first thing he did was lecture the other parties - I mean, the four parties - about putting their own interests aside and for them to think of the country. He, like others, are trying to avoid new elections in part because everyone is concerned here about frustrated voters ending up sending more right-wing populists to the Parliament. So he's going to meet with leaders of these four parties that were supposed to form the coalition to see if they can be persuaded to go back to the negotiating table.
But he also could name Merkel - Chancellor Merkel to be in charge of a government that only has a minority of MPs in Parliament. And some commentators here are saying Merkel would just have to get used to bargaining like an American president does with Congress rather than always having a majority on any issue she wants to pass.
HU: And what is Angela Merkel saying now about leading a government without a majority of lawmakers behind her?
NELSON: Well, Merkel says - she told public broadcaster ARD that she'll listen to what the president has to say about that, about a minority government.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).
NELSON: She says she's rather skeptical, and she would prefer new elections. But she also says she agrees with the president that it's not ideal to throw the ball back in the voters' court.
HU: Germany has been a beacon of stability for the U.S. and Europe. Is this going to change?
NELSON: Well, for now, certainly Germany is going to be very focused on itself because it has to get a government in place. I mean, at the moment, no policy is being made. There's a lame-duck government in charge. And it's very, very difficult for Germans, who are incredibly frustrated. So - but what's going to happen afterwards is going to depend on who ends up being chancellor because it could very well not be Merkel if this crisis isn't resolved.
HU: All right, we'll trust you to keep an eye on it. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Soraya, thanks.
NELSON: You're welcome, Elise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.