Four more years


As Angela Merkel looks ahead to another four years as Chancellor of Germany, Amy Courtney assesses her options for coalition

Angela Merkel’s magic has worked once again, as she takes on the role of Chancellor of Germany for the third term running. She has been voted the leader of Europe’s biggest economy. The Christian Democrats Union (CDU) will take lead once again after they and its Bavarian sister party, The Christian Social Union (CSU), won 41.5% of the national vote.

Europe’s most powerful woman told her supporters, “This is a wonderful result. We will treat this trust with great care.” Merkel is highly respected in Germany as she has kept the German economy stable with low unemployment rates, but the big question on eveyone’s minds is who she will go into coalition with.

Despite gaining the largest number of seats since 1957, Merkel’s party fell just five seats short of an absolute majority. The CDU will need a partner in government, which leaves Merkel with the choice of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) with 192 seats, and the Greens with 63 seats.

Currently the SPD is the favourite. The joining of forces between the CDU and the SPD would make a strong and popular collaboration and put confidence in people all over Europe that Germany will stay committed to the euro.

However, the SPD want to raise taxes on wealthy German citizens and support European integration and have previously attacked Merkel on her excessive austerity on European countries in return for bailout loans.

Party leader, Peer Steinbruck, had suggested something similar to a German-funded Marshall Plan instead of what he called “a deadly dose of austerity.” All these factors may affect the potential coalition of SPD with CDU.

The ecologically focused and pro-European party, the Greens, are the CDU’s other potential coalation partner, winning 63 seats this year. Although these two parties have been in coalation before, some commentators would consider them to be volatile, and this coalation may prove to not be very popular as they could have differences over taxes.

This election will have long-lasting effects on the political make-up of Germany. The pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), who were in the previous coalition government with the CDU, was pushed out this year for the first time in postwar history after gaining only 4.8% of the vote.

This was a catastrophic collapse from the party’s good years, as they had received 14.6% of the vote as recently as 2009. FDP failed to meet the 5% threshold to win seats in the Bundenstag.

Meanwhile, The Alternative for Germany, a euro-sceptic party that campaigned on promising to scrap the euro and stop paying money to Europe’s periphery countries in need, nearly crossed the 5% hurdle to enter Parliament.

So, what does this mean for Ireland? Merkel has commended Ireland on making good progress on our bailout and has stated that she was grateful to Enda Kenny for “implementing the reforms so passionately.”

Merkel cited Ireland as “one of those examples where it can be shown that things are improving” and expressed her “sincere respect” to the government for what they have achieved. She also stated that the policy towards Ireland will not change in light of her reelection.

While many hoped that the election would force Merkel to re-evaluate her policies regarding austerity, the CDU has instead campaigned against using German money to stimulate growth in neighbouring economies. Pundits pointed to recent signs that the Eurozone economies are starting to recover as proof that their policies work.

German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, appeared on television Sunday night, assuring Germany’s European partners that Berlin would play a “reliable” role in the continent’s affairs. In other words, expect more of the same.

Writers at the Economist argue that Merkel “is largely to blame for the failure to create a full banking union for the euro zone, the first of many institutional changes it still needs. She has refused to lead public opinion, never spelling out to her voters how much Germany is to blame for the euro mess (nor how much its banks have been rescued by its bail-outs).”

They argue that she is a politically gifted democrat who is a much safer bet than her leftist rivals. Merkel’s decision to save the euro has been lead by cautious actions.

Germany bailed out countries only when on the brink of collapse and while there were no major reforms, Merkel can be credited with saving Europe, an outcome that was far from certain during large portions of the past six years. Though many may not agree with Merkel, she is definitely well-respected and here to stay.