Day after day, the leaders of the four Dutch parties have filed stoically into the ornate Stadhouderskamer room in the Dutch parliament where, watched over by hand-woven mural tapestries depicting Roman deities, they are gradually hammering out the policies of the next government coalition.
They're getting close, but consensus-driven Dutch politics takes time. Egos must be massaged, compromises brokered and, if they agree to work together, ministerial portfolios divvied up. The talks resumed Tuesday afternoon.
On his way in, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he did not have any tips for Merkel. "She's very wise and will be able to handle it without my advice, no doubt," Rutte told The Associated Press. Lengthy talks to form a coalition government are a regular feature in some European democracies — Belgians once had to wait more than 500 days for a new government.
Merkel, in power for 12 years, is more used to forming a government with just one partner. A Dutch analyst who closely studies elections and their aftermaths says he would advise her not to rush into a new coalition.
"In a polarized situation, she should just talk with everybody," said Andre Krouwel, a political scientist at the VU Amsterdam university. Merkel's bloc came in first in Sunday's vote but its position was weakened. Her Christian Democratic Union and its Bavaria-only ally, the Christian Social Union, won 33 percent of the vote — down from 41.5 percent four years ago. Her coalition partner for the last term, the Social Democrats led by Martin Schulz, won 20.5 percent and vowed to go into opposition.
To the right of Merkel, the nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, swept into third place with 12.6 percent of the vote. All that has left Merkel looking for new partners. The most politically plausible option for Merkel is a three-way coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens. The combination, called a "Jamaica" coalition because the parties' colors match those of the Caribbean nation's flag, hasn't been tried before in a national German government.
Merkel signaled Monday that she is not in a rush. Noting the Netherlands' ongoing negotiations, she said "so I'm not the most urgent case." The current Dutch negotiations are the second-longest on record for them, eclipsed only by a 208-day formation process in 1977.
Talks in Belgium, which is already split along French and Flemish language lines, can take even longer. It took a whopping 541 days of negotiations following the 2010 election before Socialist Elio Di Rupo was appointed prime minister.
Merkel's position now is similar to that of Dutch Prime Minister Rutte: they both emerged victorious after an election, but lost seats and their coalition partners. Rutte initially tried to build an alliance between his free market People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, the Christian Democrats, the centrist D66 party and Green Left. The Greens, however, pulled the plug on that alliance in May when negotiators failed to bridge the yawning gaps between the parties on immigration policy.
Merkel will likely face a similar problem if she attempts to co-opt the German greens into a coalition. The talks "will certainly be very complicated and very difficult," said the Greens' co-leader, Katrin Goering-Eckardt. "We will negotiate with great responsibility and great seriousness."
One consolation for Dutch voters is that their country's economy appears to be doing just fine even without a new government — its gross domestic product grew a robust 3.3 percent this year and 2.5 percent in 2018. Rutte's previous coalition is staying on in a caretaker capacity until a new coalition is appointed but cannot make major policy decisions.
So it remains a waiting game for both the Dutch public and now the Germans. "In theory, it should be faster in Germany," Krouwel said. "But, then again, politics is human behavior and emotion. So it could completely collapse and take forever."