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Merkel: The comfortable choice

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Merkel: The comfortable choice

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Reconfirmed Chancellor of Germany: Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has won the party’s best ever federal election result since the country’s reunification in 1990. One Berlin newspaper’s headline, reporting on Sunday’s poll, was: “All dwarfs except Mutti,” which is a fond nickname she bears.

But she has a problem: stronger than ever yet as dependent as ever, this is because the CDU did not win an absolute majority in the Bundestag parliament, and its erstwhile partners the liberals didn’t even get enough votes to get in.

Our correspondent in Berlin, Olaf Bruns, explained: “It’s a great personal victory for the Chancellor, but the coming weeks could be hard going, since her probable coalition partners the Social Democrats have bad memories of the last Grand Coalition, and so they’ll negotiate tooth and nail on this.”

The SPD candidate running to unseat Merkel, Peer Steinbrueck, conceded defeat on Sunday evening but he didn’t hesitate to point out it wouldn’t be easy for her: “The ball is in her court. She’s the one who has to put together a governing majority.”

Steinbrueck also laid down a few ground rules for his upcoming talks with Merkel: “No little games, no strategic negotiation; the SPD must always take the measure of what it wants to attain for people – what they want from European policies and with our allies, their international ideas, the things we want to accomplish in Germany by linking what is socially fair with what is economically rational. This will the basis for everything, our unity of value.”

Steinbrueck was in Merkel’s 2005-2009 Grand Coalition, serving as finance minister. The campaign he has just run was markedly more left-leaning than in those past elections; notably this time around, he demanded minimum wages in Germany.

The SPD can also be expected to push for the finance minister post again, which would mean Merkel letting go of her highly respected colleague in that post to date: Wolfgang Schäuble.

To get further insight into the German election result euronews correspondent Olaf Bruns spoke to Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, in the shadow of the Bundestag in Berlin.

Olaf Bruns, euronews:

The personal triumph of the Chancellor is in all the headlines, but does the result reflect the fact that the CDU election campaign was totally focused on the personality of the Chancellor and clearly not on political content. Did the Chancellor win this vote because the CDU avoided talking about content?

Jan Techau, Carnegie Europe, Director:

Avoiding content is an old campaign strategy, but there are other important factors. They are the classics: the really good situation of the economy, which makes it difficult to campaign from the point of view of the opposition. And this was – according to me – the overwhelming factor – especially compared to others in Europe – the low unemployment rate in Germany etc. The people don’t feel the crisis, the people are essentially doing well and there is no mood for change. This was the first point. The second point is that the Chancellor as a person is seen – even by those who do not really like her – as someone doing well, one can somehow trust her. This feeling that she is creating is that people feel comfortable in general and she personifies that.

Olaf Bruns, euronews:

But did the lack of CDU campaigning concerning EU policy on the euro-crisis leave space for the “Alternative für Deutschland” to rise to prominence?

Jan Techau, Carnegie Europe, Director:

Yes, the Chancellor left herself wide open to attack on European policy. On the one hand because if you are a person who is thinking in a classical economically liberal way, then much of what has been agreed to overcome the crisis and what has been approved in Germany with a big majority is seen as “coming from hell”. And this is what liberal economists do not like and disapprove of. The other weak point is that during the fight against the crisis she herself said she wanted more economic integration, but now she says that she doesn’t want the political union and the political integration that must come with it. And now she creates a new gap between what is economically necessary, but politically impossible. This is a huge weak point for Europe and in the long term also for her party.

Olaf Bruns, euronews:

Angela Merkel has won the elections almost single-handedly, but she cannot govern alone. She needs a coalition and the most likely solution is a Grand coalition of the CDU and the Social Democrats. But how might both parties go about talks?

Jan Techau, Carnegie Europe, Director:

Right now there’s an incredible psychological battle unravelling. The CDU is in a strong position, but in fact they are on the back foot because they need another party to muster a majority. The SPD are playing hard to get, and will try to push the price higher. The SPD has the great instrument of the Bundesrat which is firmly in their hands so the SPD can make the life of the Chancellor very difficult. But in the end the SPD probably won’t be able to resist the draw of the coalition.

Olaf Bruns, euronews:

Many Europeans, especially from the south of Europe, hope that in a coalition government the SPD would lead Germany to a more flexible position concerning the euro-crisis, that they might demand less austerity. Do you think that they can get what they hope for?

Jan Techau, Carnegie Europe, Director:

I think they will maybe get a little bit, but in principle the German position will probably not change. One must not forget that the Chancellor is not standing alone on this. With some exceptions there is consensus on this issue within Germany. The SPD has no revolutionary alternatives and the Chancellor is not alone in Europe. She has powerful allies in the EU with the Dutch and the Austrians and most of the Scandinavians and also the Poles. The Merkel-show was never a one woman-show: austerity, that principle of, “we will support you, but in exchange you must reform” has always found favour in the north of Europe. And that will not change.