Sunday, September 27, 2009

The New German Politics

Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, won more than a second term today in a general election – she also defeated her left-leaning former coalition partners, the Social Democrats, and helped the more conservative and pro-business Free Democrats. Merkel and the Free Democrats will now form a Centre-Right coalition for the next four years. The Social Democrats experienced their worst political defeat in sixty years. Merkel continues, but there is a real and radical change of government.

The new coalition can begin to scale down the stimulus spending demanded by the Social Democrats, the scale of which Merkel did not fully approve, and begin to refocus and redefine the role of Government in German society. A period of spending cuts and a reinvention of Government can be expected.

In her first election, Merkel talked of “radical economic reform”, but compromised so as to secure the Chancellorship and some stability in the coalition. But now she has more freedom of action with like-minded partners. She is a pragmatist, but she is also a fiscal conservative. She also wants to strengthen the position of Germany in the EU.

At the top of her agenda is the economy. Germany has experienced high unemployment and an exodus of manufacturing jobs to other countries, notably in Asia. Also key to her strategy is the greening of Germany’s economy, something already well under way. This is important for Merkel, who is a conservative environmentalist, not just because “green jobs” may help grow the economy but also because the Green Party improved their standing during the election.

Her second priority is the war in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of German troops. It is most unpopular war and the strategy she wishes to pursue mirrors that of Canada – shifting the mission to one of development and social support and away from military action. She is also concerned about the widespread corruption within the Afghan government and the absence of the rule of law. Germany has over 4,500 troops in Afghanistan and, during the election, there were hints of a pull out by 2013. Merkel and Gordon Brown have called for a rethink of the Afghan mission – something American President, Barrak Obama, is now having to consider.

Merkel’s election is bad news for Gordon Brown. It shows a major European ally dissatisfied with left leaning political and economic strategies and more interested in economic and fiscal responsibility, smaller government and a smaller role for the State in daily life – precisely the strategy the British conservative party is pursuing in the run up to the election in Britain.

Projecting the image of a global leader, Merkel has overcome an image of a pragmatist and policy “wonk” to be a quiet, but confident leader of the German people. She appeared surprised at the scale of her success in the election, having stumbled a little in the last few days before polling. Her victory signals a period of stability in German politics, as the left will now spend time diagnosing its failure and reorganizing for the future, possibly with a new leadership team. Merkel will savor her victory.

No comments: