German parliamentary elections – Merkel's choice

Strategic Communications

September 24, 2013

Seldom have parliamentary elections in an EU member state attracted such levels of attention and interest from its European partners and neighbours as those that took place yesterday in Germany.

For many in Europe, it was clear from the outset that Angela Merkel would continue to head up the German government. But what conclusions would be drawn from the results for her Christian Democrats and potential partners? Will a new alliance pursue different policies?

This snapshot tries to find the answers.

PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

That Angela Merkel remains Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany will not come as a surprise to anyone in Germany or Europe. That she just missed out on an absolute majority for her Christian Democrats, however, may well have surprised the Chancellor herself. The victory for the CDU is without doubt her personal achievement. Ridiculed for years as a political mishap, a historical gaffe following reunification, the East German Protestant has engaged with the heart of German society. She has modernised the CDU without entering into detailed discussions. She was the first to recognise that practicality and competency count for more today than ideology and polarisation, and she has used her own analytical power and nerve to guide Germany through the crisis. And what's more, Angela Merkel keeps her feet on the ground when others had long since become airborne. Even now, she can be found doing her weekly shop in the supermarket round the corner. Aware of the influence she exerts, she nevertheless remains incapable of succumbing to the trappings of power. She scored a victory yesterday, but she did not crow about it. This is why the Germans like her, and they have given her their trust.

But Ms Merkel also knows that she has now reached the zenith of her power. There is nothing left to conquer; from now on, the aim is to safeguard and consolidate. The first task is to seek out a new majority, after her previous partners, the liberal FDP, were ejected from the Bundestag for the first time in more than 60 years. The Liberals' parliamentary demise indicates that, for now, no one civic camp can lay claim to their own majority – the union parties must look to the left to find a partner. From a purely mathematical perspective, the Chancellor could establish a stable majority with any of the parties remaining in government: the Social Democrats, the Greens, or the Left Party, the heirs to the former East German unity party. In actuality the focus will be on the Greens or the Social Democrats, and the Greens hold the better cards from a strategic standpoint: No longer able to make great demands, they will force the CDU to make fewer concessions; they would be more acceptable to the strengthened Christian Social Union from Bavaria, and they would open the door to the leftwing camp for the CDU and CSU. Were it to come to this, Ms Merkel would be the first Chancellor in history to have a different partner by her side in each legislative period.


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