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Merkel III

If the Social Democrats replace the liberals, there will be no major shift in government policy

There is a general feeling in the air that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will regain her wide — if not absolute — majority on Sunday, in an election that seems to be drawing more interest outside of Germany than within its borders. If so, the leader of the Christian Democrats will have won a third mandate, although as usual she would rule in coalition as she has in the past — sometimes with the Social Democrats, at other times with the liberal-minded Free Democrats.

The vote is an important one for Europe as it involves its most populous country, its economic leader and its main economic policymaker. To a great extent, Germany represents the European Union’s entire political discourse, which cannot be drafted without Germany’s direct involvement or acquiescence. However, this well-justified European interest in German elections does not mean that the results will radically transform the stage for continental politics, which have become stuck in a rut after five years of crisis.

But it is one thing to rule out a major overhaul, and another to think that Sunday’s vote cannot bring about a modulated change in priorities. Much depends on whether there is a repeat performance at the federal level of the liberal debacle and the ever-so-slight Social Democrat advance recorded in Bavaria.

If the current coalition of Christian and Free Democrats remains in place, as the chancellor says she favors, then change would likely be close to zero. But it would be a different story if the SPD were to join another grand coalition, no matter how much Merkel might dislike the idea.

There is not exactly an abyss between the chancellor’s austere impulses and the Social Democrats’ equally orthodox views, though the latter are somewhat more inclined to encourage economic growth. But the center-left’s insistence on improved wages (a demand that the chancellor has added to her own campaign program, which in some ways is a carbon copy of her rival’s), which would result in increased domestic consumption, as well as the SPD’s support for more taxes and greater sensitivity to the needs of peripheral European members, would no doubt balance out the paradigm of excessive austerity to an unknown extent. For instance, the SPD has had a more open attitude on the key issue of eurobonds, or debt mutualization.

The damage to Europe

The orthodox paradigm has caused serious damage to the EU, from cuts to the welfare state to a slower journey out of recession. It has also weakened the weakest of the vulnerable countries. But its dominion has also been made possible by the defection of other partners of weight and the absence of solid leadership and credible alternatives.

It would be but a partial analysis of Merkel’s legacy to confine it to these matters; it would be incomplete to blame only her for the sluggish progress and excessive reticence dragging back

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