For the past year the German election had been widely portrayed here as a domestic issue. No one really expected to see a radical policy shift in Berlin in case that conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel renewed her mandate. And no one was so naive as to place hope in a victory for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).
And while expectation was building, in Munich – the Bavarian capital and the wealthiest state in the German federation – elections took a back seat as the city’s mayor tapped the first keg of beer at Oktoberfest, bringing the annual event forward by one month to take advantage of the good weather.
On Sunday, about a million visitors – in addition to the city’s permanent residents – took to the streets and crowded the bars that reeked of beer and sweat. Bavaria was in a party mood as others were stressing about the election result. All that was at the heart of Germany – the European powerhouse, as some like to call it.
Merkel of course triumphed, thrashing her coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats. In that way she earned the skepticism of Germany’s other political parties with whom she could form a government coalition – either a grand or small one. But this is a problem for Merkel.
The political and economic elites in Europe’s southern periphery have been hoping that Merkel will rise above the domestic concerns that were reflected in the elections and that she will be tempted to follow a more flexible fiscal policy vis-a-vis the crisis-wracked states of the south.
But it’s far from certain that Merkel is thinking this way. Perhaps the local elites are concerned about being abandoned to their fates or of having to face up to the anger of monsters closer to home.
In any case, Merkel’s European peers and the Anglo-Saxon establishment tend to treat the German chancellor as a political misfit and an stubborn politician who is incapable of acting in the true interests of Europe and Germany. They miss the fact that the Christian Democrats and the Bavarians have a different view of German and European interests in general. The international community, as it were, will soon get a clearer idea of the new German policy.
Importantly, the European idea has suffered serious damage. The European integration project was two-pronged as it was founded on the political hegemony of France and the economic vigor of Germany. However, France has ceased to play this hegemonic role and its financial well-being is also in question. The Union is sick and it is doubtful that Germany will be willing to sacrifice itself for the sake of its European partners.