Merkel Wins Personal Victory But Loses Ally

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, June 28, 2012
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, June 28, 2012 (Bundesregierung)

German chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday won a resounding victory for her ruling Christian Democrat parties while her liberal allies failed to reenter parliament. The result might yet force the woman leading Europe’s largest economy into a government with one of her socialist rivals.

Partial election results shown on German television Sunday night put Merkel’s conservative parties at 42 percent — their strongest performance since 1990, the year of Germany’s reunification, but just a handful of seats short of an absolute majority in the Bundestag, the lower chamber of parliament.

Merkel’s liberal coalition partners were stuck at 4.7 percent in the polls, however, while a new Euroskeptic party, Alternative für Deutschland, similarly hovered just below the 5 percent election threshold.

“This is a super result,” Merkel told cheering supporters in Berlin. “Together, we will do all we can to make the next four years successful ones for Germany.”

Weekly Der Spiegel attributed Merkel’s success to her “presidential style of government” which has inspired trust among German voters. Even if they aren’t sure what the risk averse chancellor stands for, many Germans feel the country is in good hands.

The liberal Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung similarly argued that Merkel’s prestige gave her Christian Democrats such a big win. “The outcome is an endorsement of her policies as well as her political style.”

Which is simultaneously the “dark side” of Merkel’s success, wrote Heribert Prantl in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The conservative party now “consists of almost nothing but her.”

If the conservatives must soon start thinking about how to remain in power when Merkel steps down, the Social Democrats have a more immediate problem. They barely recovered from what was their worst postwar election performance four years ago when they got 23 percent support. With 26 percent of the votes this time, they would be able to give Merkel a governing majority — but the last such a “grand coalition” was precisely the reason so many leftist voters abandoned the party.

There are also risks for the conservatives in another left-right alliance, warned Ludwig Greven in Die Zeit newspaper. It would make their party even less distinct. Merkel might then be unable to accomplish tax relief at home while the Social Democrats would like to shift the emphasis in Europe from austerity to “growth,” or stimulatory, policies.

Greven suggested a coalition with the Greens instead who, defying optimistic forecasts, came in fourth with around 8 percent support. Merkel could then reach new voters: “young women, environmentally conscious and urban voters who otherwise share conservative values.” Many socially liberal voters sympathize with the Greens’ cosmopolitan outlook and ecologist platform but were spooked at the last moment when the party lurched to the left in an attempt to draw supporters from the far-left Die Linke and thus secure a majority for itself and the Social Democrats.

Die Linke‘s voters were unpersuaded. The party lost roughly a third of its support to the Social Democrats but with 8.4 percent, it will still be the third largest in parliament.

Combined, the three parties on the left will have a majority if neither the liberals nor Alternative für Deutschland get into parliament but the Greens and Social Democrats have ruled out forming an alliance with what is the successor to former East Germany’s ruling communist party.

If Merkel’s Christian Democrats eke out an absolute majority when all the votes are counted, it might still complicate matters for Merkel in Europe as a dozen or so of her own lawmakers have consistently voted against bailouts for highly indebted peripheral eurozone states as well as efforts to further centralize economic and fiscal policymaking in the currency area. Her last government relied on the opposition Social Democrats to enact European policy. They and the Greens are also still in the majority in the upper chamber of parliament, the Bundesrat. Some sort of alliance with one of those parties seems inevitable.

In German Election, Merkel Is the Safest Choice

German chancellor Angela Merkel listens to a debate in parliament in Berlin, June 27
German chancellor Angela Merkel listens to a debate in parliament in Berlin, June 27 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

Polls predict that German chancellor Angela Merkel will cruise to a comfortable victory in this week’s parliamentary elections. We would welcome her reelection.

Although the liberal Free Democrats, who emphasize economic freedom and individual responsibility, are more aligned with the Atlantic Sentinel‘s views, their leader, economy minister Philipp Rösler, looks unfit for the chancellorship. Merkel, by contrast, has proven herself to be a wise leader since she first assumed office in 2005 — sometimes pragmatic, otherwise steadfast. Read more

Bavarian Win at Liberals’ Expense Should Alarm Merkel

Bavarian prime minister and conservative party leader Horst Seehofer visits Hessen, Germany, September 19
Bavarian prime minister and conservative party leader Horst Seehofer visits Hessen, Germany, September 19 (CDU Hessen)

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative allies in Bavaria won back control of the regional legislature on Sunday but their liberal coalition party’s failure to reenter parliament doesn’t bode well for the right’s electoral chances nationwide.

The Christlich-Soziale Union, a sister party of Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats, won 49 percent support according to projections from ARD and ZDF television. Party leader and Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer hailed the outcome as “a great election success” in a speech to supporters in Munich. “With this, the year 2008 is history,” he said.

Five years ago, the Bavarian party scored its worst result in six decades with 43 percent. Seehofer was forced into a coalition with the liberal Free Democrats who are also Merkel’s partners at the national level.

The conservatives have governed Germany’s largest and second most populous state for over half a century. It styles itself as the natural ruler of a region that is proud of its “laptop and lederhosen” economy, mixing innovation and tradition. Home to industrial giants such as Audi, BMW and Siemens, Bavaria has Germany’s lowest unemployment rate. If it were a separate country, it would have the eurozone’s sixth largest economy.

Bavaria’s conservatives will likely be able to govern without allies again but Merkel’s party as a whole will need a coalition partner after next week’s federal election when it is expected to get some 40 percent of the votes.

If the liberals fail to cross the 5 percent election threshold as they did in the south this weekend, a “grand coalition” between the Christian and Social Democrats is virtually the only alternative. Both parties have all but ruled out such an outcome, however. Merkel insists a continuation of her government with the pro-business Free Democrats is in Germany’s best interest while the Social Democrats care little to repeat an alliance that cost them more than 10 percent support in the last election. Merkel presided over a grand coalition between 2005 and 2009.

The liberals’ weak showing in Bavaria might persuade rightwingers elsewhere to back them instead of Merkel’s own party which could weaken the chancellor — especially if Euroskeptic voters also abandon her in favor of Alternative für Deutschland, a startup that has so far gained little traction in opinion polls but will siphon off votes from the conservatives even if it fails to enter parliament.

Merkel Appeals to German Voters to Stay the Course

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, October 19, 2012
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, October 19, 2012 (Bundesregierung)

Germany’s conservative chancellor Angela Merkel urged voters on Sunday night to stay the course. “We have had four good years for Germany and I believe the next four years will be good as well,” she said at the end of a televised debate with the Social Democratic Party leader Peer Steinbrück.

Steinbrück, who is trailing badly in opinion polls, confronted the incumbent over an imminent third bailout program for Greece, which would be deeply unpopular in Germany. Merkel refused to discuss specifics, saying “as chancellor” she had a responsibility to keep the pressure on Greece to enact necessary economic and fiscal reforms. The promise of another bailout might alleviate that pressure. Rather than discussing more financial aid for profligate member states or eurobonds — the pooling of sovereign debt in the eurozone; unacceptable to most Germans — “everyone must take his own responsibility,” she said.

Steinbrück, a former finance minister whose party is seen as more pro-European than Merkel’s, appealed to Germans’ sense of “European responsibility.” While he said he agreed with the need for fiscal consolidation in high debt nations in the south of Europe, he advised against doing it in “deadly doses,” recommending something of a second Marshall Plan to save the eurozone instead. Merkel shot back that the Social Democrats had voted with the coalition on every European policy decision.

Much of the debate, which was simultaneously broadcast across Germany’s private and public television networks, was devoted to economic policy and employment. Steinbrück advocated a nationwide minimum wage, a key Social Democrat election platform, saying every German should be able to make a living off a regular job. Merkel agreed but cautioned against the government dictating wages. She added, “We musn’t do anything that threatens jobs.” Under a left-wing government, she warned, the conditions for job creation would worsen whereas Germans today are better off than they were four years ago when her coalition with the liberal Free Democrats took office. Germany is the “engine of growth in Europe”, she said, and it should stay that way.

Unemployment has dropped from an almost 8.5 percent high in 2009 to under 5.5 percent this year. Steinbrück complained that labor conditions had become too flexible but Merkel pointed out that 21 million Germans have jobs with full social benefits and low paid jobs are justified to give people a “chance to enter employment.”

In her closing statement, Merkel vowed that taxes would not be raised if her right-wing government was reelected. The fact that taxes weren’t reduced and regulations for businesses not further liberalized in the last four years, however, is why Merkel’s coalition party is doing so poorly.

If the liberals fail to cross the 5 percent election threshold — most surveys suggest they will narrowly manage to reenter parliament — a “grand coalition” between the Christian and Social Democrats is most likely, even if both candidates again ruled it out on Sunday night.

Conservatives, including Merkel’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, have warned voters that the only alternative to the conservative-liberal alliance is a leftist administration supported by Die Linke. Steinbrück, who, like his predecessors, has shunned what is the successor to communist East Germany’s ruling socialist party, would rather govern with the Greens alone. Although polls predict that the Greens will replace the liberal party as the third largest in parliament, it will probably not get enough seats to help the Social Democrats find a majority.

Merkel Takes Risk by Suggesting Role in Syria

Chancellor Angela Merkel visits German troops in Afghanistan, March 12, 2012
Chancellor Angela Merkel visits German troops in Afghanistan, March 12, 2012 (Bundesregierung/Steffen Kugler)

Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking a political risk when she hints at German support for a military intervention in Syria. German voters are notoriously pacifist and see little reason why they should be drawn into another country’s civil war.

While 60 percent of Germans polled by Stern magazine last year opposed foreign intervention in Syria altogether, Merkel’s government backed an international response to allegations of chemical weapons use there on Monday, saying, “The alleged widespread use of gas has broken a taboo. It requires consequences.”

Guido Westerwelle, the foreign minister, joined the chancellery in demanding action after what he described as a “crime against civilization.” He predicted that “Germany will belong to those who support consequences.”

Germany’s NATO allies Britain, France, Turkey and the United States all called for action after Syrian opposition activists last week accused the regime of President Bashar Assad of gassing hundreds of civilians in a suburb of the capital Damascus. President Barack Obama told CNN on Friday that the use of chemical weapons “starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.”

With some 60 percent of American voters also opposed to intervention in Syria, however, Western military action is likely to be limited to air- and missile strikes, possibly to pave the way for imposing a no-fly zone as NATO did over Libya two years ago which enabled the uprising there to topple longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Germany was critical of the effort in Libya, fearing that it would involve Western powers in a protracted civil war. It warned its allies at the time that they should not expect “quick results with few casualties.” It took more than seven months of bombing before Gaddafi was deposed.

Germany was Libya’s second biggest trading partner after Italy — which also resisted military action — before the war.

The Merkel government’s refusal to support, let alone participate in, the mainly American, British and French operation appalled German internationalists like former foreign minister Joschka Fischer who told the weekly Der Spiegel at the time that it was “perhaps the biggest foreign policy debacle since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany.” He believed his nation’s standing in the world had diminished as a result.

Felix F. Seidler, a German security blogger and member of Kiel University’s Institute for Security Policy, similarly laments a supposed lack of credibility on Germany’s part and even argues, “If Germany doesn’t want to completely abolish security policy, it cannot escape from an American intervention in Syria.”

Der Spiegel endorses military action for the same reason. It insists that the “moral credibility of the West” is at state.

While it deployed Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey’s border with Syria after a Turkish reconnaissance jet was shot down by Syria’s air defenses last year, Germany has repeatedly cautioned the West against involving itself in the conflict. It resisted British and French pressure to relax the conditions of a European Union arms embargo on Syria. Westerwelle warned in March that if outside powers provided the Syrian opposition with weapons, they would risk triggering an “arms race” and exacerbating “a proxy war that could push the whole region into a broader conflict.”

Western countries were reluctant to arm rebel fighters for fear of propping up a jihadist insurgency. Most of the communications equipment and weapons supplied by the United States and its allies in the region, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, ended up in the hands of religious extremists who now appear the most effective fighting force in the opposition. The Sunni powers in the region have sectarian and strategic interests in supporting the largely Sunni uprising against Assad, however, who is the only Arab ally of their nemesis Iran. Support from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, a Shia group, has only deepened the sectarian nature of the conflict. The country’s minority Alawites and Christian tend to still support the regime.

With elections due in a month’s time, Germany’s opposition parties see Merkel’s newfound trigger happiness as an opportunity to draw voters from her Christian Democrat party which enjoy more than 40 percent support in most surveys.

“Given the confusion surrounding the situation in Syria, I would advise caution when it comes to the discussion over military intervention,” Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democrats’ leader, told the Südwest Presse newspaper. His party trails Merkel’s in the polls by some 15 points.

Green party chairwoman Claudia Roth told Der Spiegel she had “extreme doubts that a military intervention will stop the conflict or deescalate it.”

The Greens are expected to become Germany’s third largest party after the election and favor a coalition with the Social Democrats. Having ruled out an alliance with the far-left Die Linke, the successor to former East Germany’s ruling socialist party, however, a “grand coalition” between the Christian and Social Democrats is more likely if Westerwelle’s liberals fail to cross the 5 percent election threshold.

German Social Democrats Shun Both Conservatives, Far Left

German Social Democratic Party leader Peer Steinbrück gives a speech in Berlin, October 18, 2008
German Social Democratic Party leader Peer Steinbrück gives a speech in Berlin, October 18, 2008 (SPD/Marco Urban)

German opposition leader Peer Steinbrück said on Sunday that he would not enter into a “grand coalition” with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives as the junior party, raising the possibility of a right-wing victory in September’s election.

Steinbrück, who was Merkel’s finance minister in the last such grand coalition between 2005 and 2009, told ZDF television that a government of Christian and Social Democrats was unlikely. “We all know what happened last time around,” he said, referring to support for his party plunging to 23 percent in the 2009 election from 34 percent in 2005.

Earlier in the day, Gregor Gysi of the far-left Die Linke had called on Steinbrück to consider forming a government with his party as well as the Greens who are expected to win between 13 and 15 percent support next month, replacing Merkel’s liberal coalition party as the third largest in parliament.

“I don’t see any reason that would prevent Die Linke from becoming part of a government ruling in Germany one day,” Gysi told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper which published a poll that put Steinbrück’s Social Democrats, their Greens allies and the Left at 46 percent, a point ahead of the ruling parties. “Without us, they’re not going to win the chancellery,” Gysi added.

The Greens and Social Democrats have shunned Die Linke because it is the successor to communist East Germany’s ruling socialist party and seeks to withdraw Germany from NATO. Polls predict that its support will drop from nearly 12 percent in the last election to 8 or 9 percent next month.

The Social Democrats have quietly dropped their ban on alliances with Die Linke at the state level in former East Germany, however, where it remains popular. Between 2010 and 2012, the party also backed a coalition government of Greens and Social Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia when the two fell short of a majority.

Merkel’s current finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble suggested earlier this year that the opposition parties should repeat that experiment if the conservatives and liberals failed to win reelection. In a television interview last month, the chancellor also made that suggestion and warned that the only alternative to a continuation of her government was an all left alliance — scaring moderate voters who might otherwise consider voting for the Social Democrats.

Few Germans favor including Die Linke in a federal administration. If Steinbrück, whose party is around 25 percent support in the polls, were to declare his intention to form a government with them ahead of the election, he could lose centrist voters.

Despite their protestations, the Frankfurter Allgemeine business newspaper reported on Sunday that the Social Democrats would be willing to consider ruling with the conservatives again, provided Merkel didn’t return as chancellor. Since the liberal Free Democrats are struggling to cross the 5 percent election threshold, it might be the only realistic outcome.

Germany’s Merkel Warns Against Far-Left Coalition

German chancellor Angela Merkel is interviewed by ARD television, July 14

German chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she would like to continue her ruling coalition with the liberal party after elections in the fall and warned that the alternative might be an entirely left-wing government.

In an interview with ARD television, the conservative leader, who has been in power since 2005, said she was “convinced” her Free Democrat coalition partners would cross the 5-percent threshold in September’s election and stay in coalition with the Christian Democrats. Recent surveys put the liberals’ support at just 5 percent.

Merkel’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a fiscal hawk, similarly told weekly Der Spiegel in May that the government would defend its majority in the lower chamber of parliament. He even ruled out a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats while Merkel seemed only reluctant to entertain the possibility.

“If the right doesn’t win a majority,” said Schäuble, the Social Democrats and Green party should “repeat what they did in North Rhine-Westphalia,” Germany’s most populous state where the two parties fell short of a legislative majority in a state election three years ago but were able to form a government with the backing of the far-left Die Linke.

Merkel also suggested that was the most likely outcome if her conservative CDU failed to win reelection in coalition with the liberals. It seemed a warning to centrist voters who might otherwise consider supporting the Social Democrats or Green party, once a far-left pacifist movement that has reinvented itself as a cosmopolitan alternative for socially liberal voters. “If you want me to remain chancellor,” she said, “you simply must vote CDU.”

Even if Die Linke looks likely to lose up to half of its seats, it might get enough votes to help the Social Democrats and Greens win a majority. In a Forsa poll released last week, the two parties got 22 and 15 percent support respectively, compared to 41 percent for Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Last month, Merkel’s government agreed to a three year fiscal consolidation plan that envisages a modest budget surplus as early as 2015. In the interview, she promised to stay the course if reelected.