That was an ominous development — but not nearly as ominous as what’s happened since. On Sunday, Merkel announced that month-long negotiations with the socially liberal Green Party and the pro-business Liberal Party (FDP) over forming a government with Merkel’s own center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had collapsed. The cause? The chairman of the FDP (Christian Lindner) had outflanked Merkel on the right and refused to join a coalition that would support a policy of allowing relatives of refugees to join their loved ones in Germany.

That leaves Merkel to choose among a handful of bad options. She can try to persuade the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) to join with the CDU in the same “grand coalition” that governed the country until the recent election. The problem is that the SPD’s electoral fortunes (like those of many other center-left parties across Europe) are in steep decline, and the party’s leadership thinks forming another government with the CDU would hasten its collapse into irrelevancy. Assuming the SPD won’t play ball, Merkel’s CDU could also try to govern alone, without a majority. But that would leave the government extremely weak.