Rarely in politics has a landslide election produced so little clarity about the country’s future. Rather than provide a mandate for the direction of Germany or Europe, this week’s election has muddied the political waters.
“Merkel in 42 percent heaven” the Berliner Zeitung said on Sunday (the headline has since changed on the website). But for much of Germany and certainly the rest of the European Union, the results will be more like political and economic purgatory than heaven.
On being elected to her third term as chancellor, Angela Merkel received more support than any conservative leader since Konrad Adenauer in 1957. However, neither the Social Democrat Party (SPD) nor the Green Party is keen to share power with a politician who was nicknamed the “Black Widow” for the way that she chews up and decimates her coalition partners. In the last grand coalition, in which Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU) and the SPD shared power from 2005 to 2009, the SPD lost a third of its traditional voters. The party shrank from 35 percent to 23 percent during this time and it has not yet recovered. The Green Party, which has a lot of left-leaning voters, would probably suffer an even worse fate.
The paradox is that the negotiations to form a coalition portray a government that is shifting to the left. As my colleague Sebastian Dullien points out, although the left-wing parties lost support, their leverage over Merkel is set to grow. The German electoral system was deliberately designed to result in compromises rather than clear choices. In 2013 it has over-delivered on compromise.
The main parties deliberately avoided committing themselves to clear policies during the campaign, so now the coalition negotiations will have to agree on the big issues. This could take some time. It took over 60 days for the grand coalition in 2005 and 25 days for the coalition with the liberals in 2009.