Politics & Policy

Merkel’s Triumph

Her campaign benefited from not confronting the euro crisis, but more bailouts are on the way.

Angela Merkel is nothing if not a political survivor of the first order. The German chancellor has done more than overcome the eurozone crisis that saw her country bail out insolvent nations time and time again. She has just experienced a stunning personal triumph by clearly winning another four years in office. At the end of that time, she will surpass Margaret Thatcher as the longest-serving head of elected government in modern European history.

The German elections saw the two biggest parties — Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the left-wing Social Democrats — improve on their anemic 2009 showing, and they did so at the expense of minor parties. But the big winner was Merkel. She almost won an absolute majority of all seats in parliament, something that no one has pulled off since German post-war icon Konrad Adenauer did it in 1957.

But for a variety of reasons, she is left with few good alternatives to form a coalition government. Her previous partner, the Free Democrats, fell below the 5 percent threshold needed to get any seats in parliament and is now in the political wilderness — a victim of voter anger at the Free Democrats’ rampant opportunism. Many former FDP voters, disgruntled at its failure to live up to its professed free-market principles, favored the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a brand-new populist party that advocates Germany’s exit from the euro. The AfD also maintains that all transfer of German power to the European Union should be decided by national referenda. The party has been compared to the anti-euro United Kingdom Independence Party, which has so bedeviled British prime minister David Cameron from the right. But it, too, just barely failed to make it into parliament.

Two left-wing parties, the Left and the environmentalist Greens, are struggling back into parliament with diminished support, but they would make poor coalition partners for Merkel. The Left is marinated in Marxism and traces its roots back to the infamous East German Communist Party. Both Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats have rejected the Left as a suitable partner. The Greens are equally unattractive: The party was wracked by scandal this year when news broke that much of its leadership, including one of its two current leaders, had once supported the legalization of sex between adults and children. Scratch the Greens.

That leaves the prospect of a so-called grand coalition between the CDU and the Social Democrats. We saw a similar scenario before, in 2005, when the election results required these two parties to govern together in uneasy alliance. Both wound up hating the partnership. Time will tell if this unhappy history repeats, but the most likely outcome of Sunday’s vote is in fact a grand coalition. Given this, and given the state of the discredited left-wing minor parties, Germany may lack an effective opposition in parliament. Dissent against euro bailouts will be organized outside parliament. Bernd Lucke, an economics professor who has proved to be an able leader of the AfD, asked the audience at the party’s founding convention in April: “Does anyone believe that the people accepted the idea of paying for mismanagement in other euro-countries with hundreds of billions of euros?”

As it is, we can consider Merkel both skillful — she brilliantly posed as a symbol of security and strength for Germany — and lucky. She benefited from the tacit agreement of all the major establishment players in German politics (the media, the major political parties, and big businesses and the banks) that the euro crisis shouldn’t be a major campaign issue. That saved her from having to directly confront the eurozone crisis during the campaign.

But another day of reckoning is coming. Wolfgang Schäuble, Merkel’s finance minister, admitted last month that Greece is likely to seek another bailout after the election. It probably won’t be the last country to do so.

— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.


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