Germans head to the polls this Sunday in a dull and almost indifferent atmosphere that is a far cry from the emotions and tensions that characterized the Austrian, Dutch and French elections. Perhaps boredom is a side effect of stability. However, serious issues in the European Union have been left hanging.
Germany is not Switzerland to be responsible just for itself: For better or worse, it is the leader of “united” Europe, and the vast majority of member-states are – to various degrees and for different reasons – going through a period of turmoil largely resulting from two major choices made by Berlin – Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble’s unrelenting fiscal austerity and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy.
The key question regarding the German elections is not what kind of coalition will form a government, as it will take several months for a cooperation program to be finalized. It is that the German political system is aging. During the Merkel-Schaeuble era, Euroskeptic tendencies have become more marked across the EU, and now the same people will be called upon to provide solutions to the problems which emerged on their watch over the last few years.
It is desirable, but not certain, that the new government will be able to drag Europe out of its impasse. And this is partly due to the fact that US President Donald Trump has targeted Germany – in contrast to his predecessor Barack Obama, who had anointed Merkel as his successor in the pursuit of his humanitarian and liberal vision.
The emergence of the nationalist right-wing AfD party, which could come third in the election with a possible double-digit percentage of the vote, could rock the apparent stability of the German political system.
The fear expressed by the Bavarian “hyper-conservative” leader Josef Strauss that a party will be created to the right of the Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists is now an undisputed reality.
Sunday’s election will confirm Germany’s political “stability” but that does not guarantee a successful outcome in the efforts to deal with multiple challenges that Germany and Europe face.