German election: The era of Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

When Angela Merkel walked into her party's headquarters in Berlin on Sunday evening she was greeted with adulation.

It was not just the campaign cries of "Angie, Angie", it was to witness a politician in a moment of personal triumph. Her smile was broad and unrestrained. The campaign had been built around her personality and it was her victory.

She had given her party its best result in 20 years. One German paper declared: "Germany is now conclusively Angela Merkel territory." In terms of power, Frau Europa has no equals on the continent.

Her victory was, at root, a vote of thanks for her calm steady leadership through the eurozone crisis.

The woman who is often referred to as "Mutti" - "Mummy" - had acted as a protector of German interests. She had saved the German tax-payer from becoming the paymaster for the rest of Europe.

Under her leadership eurozone countries which embraced reforms were rescued, but she resisted moves to turn the European Union into a transfer union in which German money flowed south. At the same time, the German economy delivered the lowest unemployment for two decades.

And yet she finds herself in a difficult position. Her coalition partners, the pro-market Free Democrats, failed to win enough votes to qualify for seats in parliament. It leaves Angela Merkel's conservatives just shy of an absolute majority.

A single-party absolute majority has not been achieved since 1957. It would have been a historic achievement, but it would have left her vulnerable to some of the eurosceptics within her own party. Narrow majorities greatly increase the influence of back-bench MPs.

European enthusiasm

That is why many of her supporters favour a grand coalition with the opposition Social Democrats. Such an alliance is not without risk. Many of the Social Democrats are wary. They were in coalition with Angela Merkel in 2005 and got little thanks for it. In their view she stole the credit.

They will bargain hard before offering their support. They might insist on taking the post of finance minister or adopting a nationwide minimum wage or higher taxes for the rich.

SPD candidate Peer Steinbrueck is given a bunch of flowers by the party's chairman, Sigmar Gabriel The prospect of coalition is bittersweet for the Social Democrats

In 2005 they had eight ministries. They would be fortunate to have this amount of influence again.

Elsewhere in Europe, however, there is enthusiasm for a grand coalition. Officials in Brussels see the Social Democrats as softening the chancellor's strategy of insisting on austerity and labour reforms in exchange for helping weaker eurozone countries.

French President Francois Hollande, in particular, is likely to welcome a coalition with the leftist Social Democrats.

In this time of horse trading, soundings will also be put out for a coalition with the Greens. Such a partnership becomes more likely if the demands from the Social Democrats are too exacting.

Eurosceptic force

Some are asking whether the "real" Angela Merkel will now emerge. She will not, in my view, act out of character. Her instinct over Europe is to be cautious and that will not change.

There will be no "soft" third bailout for Greece. A eurozone banking union will emerge step-by-step. The chancellor will tread carefully, hoping to avoid opening up a change to the EU treaties.

She will be mindful of the strong showing of the Eurosceptic party Alternative fuer Deutschland. It did not get enough votes to qualify for seats in parliament. But it damaged the Free Democrats and will serve as a warning to Angela Merkel not to allow euro-scepticism to grow in Germany.

The success of Mrs Merkel will be welcomed by David Cameron. If he is to successfully renegotiate the terms of the UK's relationship with Europe, he will have to do it with her help.

The German chancellor has hinted, rather vaguely, that some powers can be returned from Brussels to the nation states. However a grand coalition will be less welcomed in London, as the SPD has already said "there should be no special deals for anyone".

The German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble says that Germany will continue to be Europe's economic "anchor".

It will act as role model rather than leader. Berlin will remain wary of it becoming a German Europe rather than a Europe with Germany at the heart of it.

But nothing significant can happen in Europe without Angela Merkel's agreement. Whatever the checks and balances, she is Europe's dominant politician. She is committed to the survival of the European project and its currency, but no-one is any clearer as to what kind of Europe she envisages.

Disguising her hand - which she learnt growing up under communism in East Germany - has served her well and is unlikely to change as she embarks on her third term.

Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    #19 DB

    " AfD's poll results is impressive..... Their next chance will be the EU parliamentary elections and there won't be a 5% threshold to stop them"

    -Do you really believe that the AfD (economic professors) are going to worry about ´British Grannies´

    ..and the UKIP are going to worry about ´German Grannies´?

    -- in Brussels ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    although a "grand coalition" sounds attractive in many ways and maybe is just what is needed now, that also means that the opposition for the next four years is handed to the more extreme parties, whether in the Bundestag or not. And that means of course that they will benefit significantly in the next general election, including the AFD. Today's answer will become tomorrow's big problem...

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    @ 13. quietoaktree

    Why? Well, Merkel lost her majority with conservative voters who went to the AfD. She isn't able to create a majority in the Bundestag with the Liberals again, because they failed to come in at all. Despite her own very good result she is not able to do that alone, too. It's not enough. The voters of AfD are the deciding number to reach the majority, but the votes are lost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    18 Bum

    "She will stop at NOTHING to try to save the euro- which cannot be saved"

    What gives you that idea? The euro is higher now than it was at its launch in 1999 when it was derided as a Mickey Mouse currency soon to sink into oblivion. And despite all the difficulties in the last year or so it has confounded all the naysayers

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    #18 D Bumstead

    "She will stop at NOTHING to try to save the euro- which cannot be saved."

    --any complaints from SPD, Greens or Linke ?

    --it´s not only Merkel´s ´hot potato´-- such a Greek salad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    For a party that was only founded 6 months ago and has been completely ignored by the media with the exception of the Frankfurter Allgemeine, AfD's poll results is impressive. The party gained almost as many votes as the FDP, which has been part of the German political landscape for decades. Their next chance will be the EU parliamentary elections and there won't be a 5% threshold to stop them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Wrong! Merkel has merely waited until after the elections. She will now open the gates to a transfer union as well as a bank union, because "there is no alternative". She will stop at NOTHING to try to save the euro- which cannot be saved.
    It's a great pity "Alternative fur Deutschland" failed to get into the Bundestag, they would have brought some much-needed sanity to the discussions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    16"--isn´t that off topic ?"

    No, exactly the opposite. It hits the target with a bullseye. Merckel has been chosen to manage the demise of Germany as it gets sucked down with the failed economies it has been bonded to with the unbreakable chain of the Euro. She will continue to dole out German taxpayer money to slow the collapse of Euroland and the EU with it.But the end is inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I wish the UK had political leadership of Merkel's quality. Instead, we have a bunch of mediocre Oxbridge-wallahs. That's why Germany prospers while the UK sinks into economic & social oblivion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    #12 sieu

    " a mechanism to prevent a change of mind among joiners.Turned out to be a burning building with no exits and Gemany trapped inside"

    --isn´t that off topic ?

    --they are attempting to escape --yet again --to remain on topic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    1 bath

    "Nick Clegg has probably already been on the phone"

    I'm afraid our lot are still chasing the star of a US that is disappearing down the plughole of history

    Their middle class has been throttled and Cameron is doing the same here. Meanwhile they are creating a poverty stricken future generation unable to afford a house or a proper education for their children

    Potemkin finances

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    #11 Dietrich

    "the result for the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) with 4,7%.,...This forces Merkel into negotiations for a coalition with the political counterparts."

    --Why ?

    -- There is no reason why a re-election would better the AfD chances -- only for the FDP.

    Merkel has taken the ´green from the Greens and the socialist from the Social Democrats´

    --that is the dilemma for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Failed economies of EU whether in EZ or not see EU as a gravy train, a hand out, an entitlement.Engineers of EU wanted a sufficiently large entity to be seen as a world power since none of them individually qualify.To do that, the Euro was invented as a one way gate, a mechanism to prevent a change of mind among joiners.Turned out to be a burning building with no exits and Gemany trapped inside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The most important sign of the election has been the result for the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) with 4,7%., despite this brandnew party is not even six month existing. This forces Merkel into negotiations for a coalition with the political counterparts. It's like Cameron would need to form a government together with Milliband, because Clegg has lost all and new UKIP isn't in parliament yet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    More of the same.More loans and extensions to EZmoneyland's failed economies to prolong the life of the Euro.More gov't cutback demands of them to cut the cost of their corrupt inefficient uncompetitive welfare states, more social unrest.When it becomes obvious those countries can't possibly pay back their loans Germans will wake up to reality, they're paying their own banks back for work they did

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "Disguising her hand - which she learnt growing up under communism in East Germany "

    --any proof for that statement ?

    --could just as easily say -- "as well as any British politician --growing up at Eton."

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    #4 EUPris

    "I spoke to people here in Germany just before the election who did not know that there was an AfD. I had the same experience in the UK with regard to UKIP a few years ago."

    --at least you do not compliment them for being ´informed´

    -- only slow learners -- to agree with your comparison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    #5 LucyJ

    "As a female, I am proud to see a strong woman leading Germany"

    ´“Call a woman a kitten, but never a cat:
    you can call her a mouse, cannot call her a rat:
    call a woman a chicken, but never a hen!
    Or you severely will not be her caller again can call her a lamb, but never a sheep;
    economic she likes, but you can’t call her cheap"

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    #4 EUpris

    "QOT is wrong. There are many "EU"-haters here."

    -- In ´British pubs´?

    -- the hatred was not shown in the election !

    --The silent majority ?

    -or only ´birds of a feather flock together´?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Congrats to Merkel for winning the election! ;)

    With Merkel, Germany feels stability

    With the other guy, Germans felt unsure if he would stay the tide or shift directions

    Regarding the Euro, Germany is kinda stuck where it is and as Merkel helped lead Germany this direction, Germans want to continue w/ same leader

    As a female, I am proud to see a strong woman leading Germany


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