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 Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    #42 Dietrich

    -- HasnĀ“t the importance of the second vote changed since Kohl ?

    --I remember reading it somewhere.

    --First vote for Chancellor and second for the MP directly ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    #37 pmk

    "SPD ain't it and Linke and Greens are simply unelectable." -- your idea democracy --appears to involve -- a majority of one ?

    #39 DB

    True -- The fight is on another level.

    Between the economic professors (AfD) and mainstream German industry.

    -- not for the peasants --at present.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @ 27. quietoaktree

    The FDP voters went to the CDU and to the AfD, but there were also many who went from the CDU to the AfD. Therefore the CDU got most of the FDP votes, but lost in the same time too much to the AfD to reach an own majority. Kohl was right to propose the second vote to the FDP to keep them as a coalition partner, Merkel was wrong to reject that. Big mistake by Merkel as it seems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Re 39.D Bumstead

    Anybody who grew up in Soviet-occupied East Gemany, like Angela has would think twice about inviting putinesqe Russia with still Asian mentality - to Europe.

    [not that Czechia, Estonia, France, GB, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, etc., would invite it either]

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    @35McTurk; the main loser in 2009 was the SPD, correct, 76 seats, 71 of which went to the FDP, the Left and the Greens, with only a marginal loss of 1.4% for the CDU (although that translated into a 13 seat gain in the German system). The big difference next time will be Merkel running for a fourth term...

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    34 QOT When it comes to the EU and euro, CDU/CSU, FDP, SpD and Greens are indistinguishable- they aren't collectively known as the NSED for nothing. Only Die Linke has a different policy, but is otherwise too extreme for most voters.
    36 MH Most of Russia's landmass is in Asia, ergo Russia is an Asian country and does not qualify for EU membership- plus, we don't want Russia in the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    31. quietoaktree.

    My statement doesn't really apply to the UK, as it's not in the Eurozone. The issues there are different.


    You've hit the nail on the head in one amusing statement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    13 Minutes ago
    #29 pmk

    "So 4 years from now Germans may have a real alternative.

    For the 1st time in decades. We'll see what happens then." ?????

    CDU,SPD,Greens,LINKE and AfD --are not real alternatives ?

    I've specifically said that the Alternatitve fur Deutschland may become a real alternative.

    SPD ain't it and Linke and Greens are simply unelectable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Now that Putin and Lavrov have shown Kerry and Obama up for the second raters they are in the Syria crisis maybe Mrs Merkel can persuade Russia to become a member of the EU.

    After all she was brought up in the east - the experience might be tempting

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The only problem with your hypothesis that a grand coalition would mean that the more extreme parties, "...will benefit significantly in the next general election, including the AFD" is that it did not happen after the last grand coalition.

    The main loser was the SPD, They are not happy at the idea of another grand coalition. Your hypothesis has no evidence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    #29 pmk

    "So 4 years from now Germans may have a real alternative.

    For the 1st time in decades. We'll see what happens then." ?????

    CDU,SPD,Greens,LINKE and AfD --are not real alternatives ?

    --Look at UK and USA for comparison !

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    30. DavidinUSA
    I've been wondering the same thing. How long will the hard working German people let the southern half of the EU continue their siesta?

    I'm hoping that over the next 4 years, there is a popular groundswell to pull the plug on bailout funding for countries who refuse to help themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Ms Merkel has won a resounding victory. The great white hope of English Europhobes(aka 'AfD') got no seats, and less than 5% of the vote. In the next elections, if Ms Merkel does the things she knows need to be done, they will get less.

    Ms Merkel is far more committed to Europe than to keeping the UK in Europe. Mr Cameron will not be getting as much as he will probably needs from her.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    #25 Martyn

    "The Eurozone has a fundamental flaw. Its made up of different people, all with proud heritage, that Politicians are trying to make all the same. It won't happen and it's doomed to fail."

    -- Does the UK prove or disprove your argument ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    The Germans are makers and workers. Most of the rest of the EU (not only Greece) are takers and shirkers.

    German cash keeps the takers afloat - they know, it, they resent it, but they keep on tasking. One day, Germany's electorate will demand an end to the largesses - at that point, and not before, will the EU effectively collapse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Mutti may be committed to "the European Project" but the Eurosceptic party, Alternative fuer Deutschland, which hasn't even existed a couple of years ago in on the rise despite rulling coalition's effort to squash it.

    So 4 years from now Germans may have a real alternative.

    For the 1st time in decades. We'll see what happens then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    On balance, I think that Farage would have preferred Merkel to have done badly.

    Merkel isn't daft and she wants UK to stay in the EU. Therefore, despite her rhetoric, she will help Cameron get his 'concessions' out of the EU.

    However, I don't think it will make any difference. As long as Ed Moribund & Labour don't win in 2015, we will be voting to leave EU within the next three or four years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    #22 Dietrich

    "Why? Well, Merkel lost her majority with conservative voters who went to the AfD."

    - difficult to say -- when the conservative FDP collapsed -- much more likely they went more to AfD ?

    --both are pro-business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Margaret, the euro is only kept afloat by repeatedly breaking treaties. Both Maastricht and Lisbon specifically forbid bailouts by both individual states and Eur. Central Bank, yet these articles are ignored. The dubious ESM treaty specified support for nations only, but is misused to prop up banks. Draghi is buying worthless Spanish, Italian etc bonds to buy time- but time is running out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    You can have as many Angela Merkels as you want. The Eurozone has a fundamental flaw. Its made up of different people, all with proud heritage, that Politicians are trying to make all the same. It won't happen and it's doomed to fail.


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