In the end, the result was clearer than expected. In a referendum that saw more than 378,000 members of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) cast their vote, a majority – 66 percent – ultimately opted in favour of another coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Germany finally has a government.

There had been a lot of pressure on the social democrats. After months of back and forth (remember, Germany’s federal elections were half a year ago, back in September 2017), the SPD members’ approval was the very last hurdle still standing between Germany and its new federal government. Had the membership of the SPD voted against it, Merkel would have been forced to choose between snap elections and minority government. Germany would have remained without a new (majority) government for even longer.

Many had doubted that the SPD would agree to this coalition. From within the party, a vibrant movement opposing another ‘Grand Coalition’ with Merkel’s forces had emerged since last autumn. Under the slogan of #NoGroKo (No Grand Coalition), they tried to persuade fellow party members that the SPD would be best served by spending the upcoming term in opposition. There, so the story went, they could renew themselves and regain a distinct profile, rather than serving as Merkel’s back ups for a third time.

Powered mainly by the SPD’s youth and left wing, the #NoGroKo movement toured through Germany in the days before the vote, making headlines across Europe and the world. But once push came to shove, the party voted in favour of the agreement. And while 66 percent is no crushing majority, it is only 9 percent below the results from 2013, when SPD members voted for the previous grand coalition. This is not what a revolution looks like.

Why then was the support for the coalition much clearer than expected?

First, media frenzy. Young, socialist revolutionaries (or those who portray themselves as such) make for better stories than the quiet majority that opts for stability and small, but tangible benefits. While airwaves and social media were dominated by the former, the vote was decided by the latter.

Second, social democrats have aspects to look forward to in this coalition. For the next four years, the party will be in charge of key ministries, and will be able to push through many of its policies. To many voters, this is of bigger concern than the long-term damages the coalition may incur on their party.

Third, backing down now would have been dangerous. Had the party maintained its opposition to another Grand Coalition all the way through, few would have held it against them. But to opt for opposition after negotiating and concluding a coalition agreement would have seriously harmed the party’s credibility. Together with the party’s continued decline in election polls, there was little appetite in risking snap elections.

By anchoring themselves in government for another four years, the SPD has at least secured its position for the time being. Still, its plight is far from over. The party’s structural issues persist, and will need to be solved quickly if the party wants to avoid sliding further into electoral oblivion. As a first step forward, the social democrats should now take the leading brains behind the #NoGroKo movement on board, and seek to channel their energy into the development of a joint vision for internal reform.

As the SPD continues to look inward, Germany as a whole will need to get ready to deal with its surroundings. Berlin’s European partners have waited more than half a year now for a new government to assume power. Expectations have piled up over those months, putting Berlin under pressure to deliver on multiple fronts.

Particularly on the Eurozone, there is a widespread hope that Berlin and Paris will now team up to drive forward much-needed reforms. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire indicated that both countries aim to reach a joint position on the subject by June at the latest. Even where the two will find agreement, they will need to build sufficient support around them – with the inconclusive result of the Italian elections this Sunday, this has just become more difficult.

Germany’s new government has promised much on Europe. Its coalition agreement promises reforms towards a more social Europe, for example by introducing a common framework for minimum wages and social security. It seeks a common floor for corporate tax rates across the EU, as well as a financial transaction tax. European defence cooperation is to be strengthened, and external borders better secured. With the key driver behind these reform pledges (former SPD leader Martin Schulz) gone, it will remain to be seen with how much vigour Germany will continue to pursue them.

When Angela Merkel is sworn in as German Chancellor for the fourth time on 14 March, it will have taken Germany nearly six months from holding elections to arriving at a government. Both Germans at home and European partners abroad have spent a long time waiting. Let’s hope that all this was worth it.