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Merkel triumphs

The CDU/CSU’s overwhelming victory allows the chancellor to choose her governing partner

The German elections have spectacularly cleared the path to a third mandate for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her conservative Christian Democratic bloc, the CDU and the CSU, has obtained more than 42 percent of the vote, a situation that would even allow her to form a minority government if she so wished. But there is little tradition of this in Germany and it is unlikely that she will resort to that option.

The overwhelming result, which leaves her just three or four seats short of an absolute majority, will allow Merkel to choose the party that will partner her in the government of the most powerful country in Europe. Her former governing partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), failed to even garner the five percent needed to gain entry into the Bundestag. In terms of domestic politics, the conclusion is that an agreement with the Social Democrats seems easiest; while in European terms, the chancellor has received majority support to maintain her tough policies on the euro and austerity.

After the most boring elections seen in decades, a deeply conservative Germany has given the chancellor’s party its best results in the last 25 years. This is not just because of Merkel’s personal popularity — above 60 percent — but also because many of her compatriots perceive her standard center-right policies as a safeguard for influencing a Europe in crisis. Peer Steinbrück’s Social Democrats have improved upon their previous result, but have not reached the 27 percent predicted in the polls.

As well as the massive support shown for the CDU/CSU’s interior and foreign policies, the elections have also left a clear loser: the FDP, which was incapable of surpassing the five-percent barrier needed to enter the Bundestag. The triumphant Merkel has been left without her governing partner, but she is unlikely to be sorry about the change.

Merkel could opt for a coalition with the Social Democrats, as she did in her first term in office between 2005 and 2009; or even knock on the door of the progressively discredited Greens, to whom she has made some nods recently — but both of them make uncomfortable bedfellows. Right up until Sunday, Steinbrück was ruling out returning to govern with Merkel, but his results diminish the importance of his role in the forthcoming political stage. An alliance between the center-left and the center-right would not just be the most politically plausible tie-up in a proportional system, but would also be the preferred one for Germans, according to the known polling data.

That eventual coalition, if it arrives, would not substantially change the government of a country as politically well-rounded as Germany, nor would it change its European or trans-Atlantic positions, beyond some minor adjustments and inevitable parliamentary rows. After all, the Social Democrats have supported Merkel’s crucial policy on the euro and Berlin continues to fail to consider playing the important role that falls to it in international affairs.

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