Now, however, the CDU, its Bavarian sister party CSU and the second largest party, the Social Democrats (SPD), have finally reached an agreement on forming a so-called grand coalition - the same union that led the country since 2013.
Merkel told reporters she had been forced to make compromises during the negotiations, but said the deal reached offers "the foundation of a good and stable government" with well-managed finances as its "signature". The passionate pro-European said he wanted to become foreign minister if members ratified the deal.
The results of the SPD vote will be known on March 2 after a postal vote, with all 460,000 registered members having final say in the coalition decision. The SPD looks set to control six ministries including finance and foreign affairs.
Major sticking points are reportedly reform to Germany's two-tier public and private health insurance system and setting limits to temporary work contracts, questions the SPD is determined to address in the coalition agreement. All of which is broadly positive for Emmanuel Macron: the SPD is closer to the French view on imbalances in the euro-zone and committed to further integration of the currency union.
The coalition document argued that Ankara's expectations for an updated EU-Turkey Customs Union and visa-free travel to Europe would depend on Ankara's steps to meet its obligations. Having once championed the need for Europe to help people fleeing the carnage of Syria and Afghanistan, Ms. Merkel has bowed to the populist backlash against them, though her government will remain more welcoming to refugees than the Trump administration is.
The SPD tends to favour spending over austerity, so there could be a move away from the firmer fiscal policies of former ministers.
The Chancellor's next term is now expected to be markedly different from previous government's, with Germany and other European Union partners adopting major austerity measures guided by the hand of former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Many SPD members, however, are fiercely opposed to propping up Mrs Merkel's conservative alliance for another four years, blaming the party's electoral decline on its role as junior partner in Mrs Merkel's government over the past four years.
"The big differences between the previous grand coalition and a new one will be small", Pepijn Bergsen at the Economist Intelligence Unit wrote in an email to Quartz.
The country has already broken its post-World War II record for the longest time from an election to the swearing-in of a new government.