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 204.

    189 EU

    "I don't want that now and I didn't in the 60's"

    Alas it's far worse today. At least Harold Wilson kept us out of the murderous Vienam war despite US pressure. Our politicians today would follow the US blindly

    The anti-Syrian attack vote only succeeded because of public pressure made possible through modern technology and because of our (unusual) coalition government

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.


    " " I argue for Britain's membership because I want to be able to say to countries like Brazil 'Come to Britain and you can sell to the 320 million consumers across Europe'."

    -- Britain´s role in the world ?

  • Comment number 202.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    I don't see that anything has fundamentally changed in Europe. It is still a collection of welfare states where there are guarantees of gov't subsidies to protect entrenched old wealth. This model is breaking down under the weight of globalization because far more productive nations without these burdens and restrictions have access to not only Europe's markets but to Europe itself as a market.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    #199 Durstiger

    The EU aid given to Germany for re-unification --came mainly from Germany itself.

    It paid in the highest % of EU funds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    @174 WonkyEZ
    "...otherwise there won't be any leverage on them to make reforms."

    Except those reforms were implemented about 10 years ago. They hurt plenty of people badly. And these people won't be able to remember any EU-aid for the sick man of Europe, struggling with reunification.

    Not that I'd agree with the greatest redistribution of wealth since ww2, euphemistically called euro-rescue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    #190 a_o

    Merkel´s strategy was ONLY --"Trust Mutti"

    -- She ´out Greened´the Greens and ´out Socialisted´ the SPD

    --And nobody was interested in rocking the EU boat. (only AfD)

    -- there was not much to argue about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    @ a_o please read everything first. we were talking bout private debt to GDP, not public, url is below

    @192: additionally the 5% line caused many people not to vote fot the afd as their vote would be lost if they had failed. next time people will be more confidant that their vote counts. the fdp will suffer from the opposite effect now, many might not vote for them again to not loose their vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    #192 DB

    -- I just cannot accept that many did not know they existed.

    --They were getting some bad stories from being undermined from the Fascist Right --and a couple of attacks from the far Left --I suppose that caused voter confusion ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    "...Sweden has way more [debt] than Germany and the country works pretty well..."
    This is incorrect. Sweden has a total debt to gdp of 38.2 percent, Germany 81.9 percent.
    Source is

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.


    "What ´Stammkneipe´ (pub) do you frequent ?

    --Irish ?"

    No. Guiness is not suitable for vegans because of "EU" regulations

    Parmesan is never suitable for vegetarians because of "EU" regulations

    Good night, sweet dreams

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    "A Moody's report ...that the number of non-performing consumer loans reached 18.7 percent in the first quarter and Greek bank analysts said it is likely 20 percent or more now, with bad loans totaling 50 billion euros, a 400 percent increase since the beginning of 2009. The National Bank of Greece said that lending to Greek households and companies stood at 240.2 billion euros at the end of June.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    180 QOT -The AfD was completely ignored by the media with the exception of the Frankfurter Allgemeine. Despite having only six months since their founding to prepare for the elections and the media blackout they nearly gained enough votes to pass the 5% threshold- which largely exists to protect the established parties. Next time they will do much better, and Merkel and Co know this very well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    @ Danaos 187:

    Sorry if you refuse to provide sources I will no longer do that either. Firstly I WAS talking about the combined depts of all layers including federal government, local governments and also the public health insurances etc. that REDUCED their debts, secondly the total level of debt seems insignificant, Sweden has way more than Germany and the country works pretty well (living there)

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    In contrary to Mr. Gavin Hewitt, I would say that Angela Merkels handling of the Euro crisis was not counting so much in this election. Obviously the majority of people in Germany wanted to hear what the CDU, Merkes party always refrained in their campaign: "Everything is fine, the country is in good shape". It was absolutely on purpose, that they didn`t start debating on the crisis for months.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    "Will you be coming back home then or stay in the EU country that now pays for your daily bread?"

    Stay here and help them deal with the "EU" or move to Switzerland, Norway or Canada."

    " turning us into the 51st US state?"

    I don't want that now and I didn't want that in the 60's

    It was one of my reasons for being pro-Common Market then. I was ill-informed about the C-Market

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    #185 BritPris

    "Just before the election there were people who did not know AfD existed. More know that now."

    -- Then they still don´t.

    -- What ´Stammkneipe´ (pub) do you frequent ?

    --Irish ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    168. Seraphim

    This slight reduction in private debt is a natural momentary trend during ''EU crisis'' unrelated to any genuine disengagement of Germans from private debt.(as it is, 3 times that of Greeks prior to crisis - so who lived above his means really!) - all while Federal debt rapidly increases.

    Note that a big chunk of their debt is hidden by means of ''Federal dissipation''.

    Check it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    178. margaret howard.

    "We want to be part of Europe as in previous centuries before we were forceably annexed".

    Dearest Margaret
    It can`t be true,
    your love of old England
    Just up & flew.

    That Auld Alliance
    T`was to divide then rule.
    Romantics duped
    deceit so cruel.

    Margarets don`t turn
    well,may be that's true.
    But building on old spin?
    My goodness, Mon Dieu .


  • rate this

    Comment number 185.


    "Without any new EU problems to support them, the AfD only risk losing votes"

    In your dreams!

    Just before the election there were people who did not know AfD existed. More know that now.

    The "EU" is preprogrammed for trouble in many ways. AfD's greatest days are yet to come.


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