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 64.

    62. quietoaktree

    The opportunities here in the UK are there for the taking.Millions of immigrants travel from all over & by hard work make a go of it.Its hard work that is the ethic in Germany that`s got it to its position.I know I`ll be ridiculed,but it can be done,if I did it,so can the next.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    1 Euro= 340.75 Drachma

    "The Sept 22 front page of the newspaper Realnews reveals a secret report issued by the General Accounting Office of Greece concerning Berlin’s debts to Greece and the occupation loan under the title “Miss Merkel, here is the proof.”

    634,962,891,995,162 Drachma owed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    #59 Phffft

    ",I see a great future for UK out side EU.But only if its got stomach for a fight"

    -- not when their stomachs are empty and continuing hallucinations replace reality and logic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    #56 DH

    "However, once Britain has exited & shown that there is life after the EU, "

    Wish you much luck--there was no life in Britain before the EEC.

    -- and the food lines growing longer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    #48 EUPris

    "we need to get up on our hind legs and let them have it e.g. by voting out the Liberals in every "EU" country especially Belgium."

    ´Britain's GCHQ Hacked Belgian Telecoms Firm´

    --you have already started.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Angela Merkel experience of growing up in soviet east Germany stood her in good stead.Keeping cards close to her chest,Machiavellian or just very wise?may be both.She will powerfully influence UK in staying in Europe.Helping Cameron to gain slack from Brussels that UK never could.My experience being independent,I see a great future for UK out side EU.But only if its got stomach for a fight

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    56.David Horton
    The problem with that is simply that Britain leaving the EU will probably show what a disastrous course it is; It if it ever happens, the resulting 'slowly sinking in the West' will certainly reinforce support for the EU. I doubt if many others will want to leave the floating ship EU to join sinking SS GB;

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    American comments on Europe are just so funny. Here you are just 7 days away from, yet again, hitting the financial buffers and you are pontificating about our problems. Problems which, I have to say, you show no real sign of understanding; Tend to your own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    54. EUpris
    How much more pain before the sick monster is destroyed?
    Sadly, lots.

    No country wants to leave, because it would create a precedent. No one wants to be first to make that decision.

    However, once Britain has exited & shown that there is life after the EU, I predict that within 12 months, at least 2 Northern European nations will have booked their own EU in/out vote

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    36. margaret howard
    "After all she was brought up in the east - the experience might be tempting"

    May be if Mikhail Gorbachev openness & honesty took root.Russia
    is now run by x ? KGB.A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma
    is returning & can only be understood, if like wise one is pathologically
    insecure,or regrets the passing of the soviet union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Austrian Radio website reports that "Europe" is worried about Merkel's power.

    The whole thing is a complete crock of. It has already ended in tears and death for many Greeks.

    How much more pain before the sick monster is destroyed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    39 Bum

    "Most of Russia's landmass is in Asia, ergo Russia is an Asian country and does not qualify for EU membership"

    European Russia refers to the Western areas of Russia that lie within Europe spanning across 40% of Europe including Moscow and St. Petersburg

    77% of the entire Russian population (110,000,000 out of a total of 141,000,000) lives in Western Russia

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


    " The great white hope of English Europhobes(aka 'AfD') got no seats, and less than 5% of the vote"

    They got 4.7% (ARD) . They got a party together in record time. They got more than 5% with people under 60(ARD). The "EU"-elections are coming. Enjoy!

    I ain't a Europhobe. I is a "EU"-phobe

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.


    "Ms Merkel is far more committed to Europe than to keeping the UK in Europe"

    And how would you know what is going on in her brought-up-in-the-GDR-mind?

    Another case of an "EU"-lover claiming a God-like ability to read the minds of others from afar

    Hopefully she will help us to escape

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    @ 44. quietoaktree

    There has been a reform of the voting recently and the second vote got slightly more importance. The first vote is the one for the MdB directly (personally), the second one is for the party of your preference. Since the FDP candidates of the first vote are too weak to compete with those of the big parties CDU and SPD, the second vote is of vital interest for them.

  • Comment number 49.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    39.D Bumstead

    "plus, we don't want Russia in the EU"

    The much worse than useless wotsits who run the "EU" don' give a damn what we want. Which is why we need to get up on our hind legs and let them have it e.g. by voting out the Liberals in every "EU" country especially Belgium.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Liberal (FDP) leader resigned and said "We know that we were consciously voted out"

    The leader of the Liberals in the "EU"-parliament, Guy Verhofstadt wants a "European" Army and more integration

    That means giving more power to people who have shown themselves to be totally worthless in the management of the CAP, the Euro, the Lisbon Treaty

    No wonder the Liberals are getting voted out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    @40 paulvanp
    "The big difference next time will be Merkel running for a fourth term"?

    If she runs. A week is a long time in politics.....

    Given her massive win, she might be looking for a CDU/CSU majority next time. There is no evidence that a grand coalition means the extremes are strengthened. Neither is there any evidence that Ms Merkel going for a fourth term would do so either....

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    36. margaret howard
    Now that Putin and Lavrov have shown Kerry and Obama up for the second raters...

    Hey Marj, have you forgotten that democracy is still a fairly unpopular concept in Russia?

    Lauding Putin is kinda like saying "good shot" to the harpooner on a whaling ship.

    Russian entry to the EU won't be on the cards for many years, if ever.

    Anyway, we'll be gone by then so who cares?


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