OPINION

German elections

The outcome of Germany’s national elections will have an impact on the entire European continent. Their importance does not lie in the victory of Gerhard Shroeder’s Social Democrats’ coalition with the small Greens party, given that no one could have said with certainty that his conservative challenger Edmund Stoiber would not have leveled with the socialist chancellor, a politician with a mediocre record of political achievements. The significance, rather, rests in the fact that Schroeder, who had until a couple of months ago had been lagging behind Stoiber in opinion polls with a maximum 10-percent margin, dared to turn the ballot into a vote on Berlin’s stance on the impending US strike on Iraq. Furthermore, Schroeder did not hesitate to draw on a subtext of German autonomy by referring to what he called the «German way» of doing things, stressing that decisions are taken in Berlin only, breaking a longstanding political taboo against key German politicians making public remarks which could be seen as encouraging Berlin’s weaning, emancipation, or distancing itself from Washington. Public approval of this stance, which Stoiber was reluctantly forced to endorse himself, means that Germany will try to promote its own views with extra self-confidence, albeit inside the contours of its steady alliance with the USA. An increased German assertiveness will have a deep effect on European integration as Germany, the EU’s powerhouse, will have to take serious initiatives to step up the process of unification if it truly aspires to increase Teutonic leverage in the Western system. In addition, the victory of Germany’s center-left a week after the win of Sweden’s socialists puts the brakes on the center-rightist momentum over the previous one and a half years. Conservative parties now have to make an even greater effort, one based on convincing the domestic electorate, as they can no longer hope to ride on the back of a conservative momentum across Europe. This applies to Greece as well, to some degree, where the conservative New Democracy opposition will have to present a solid government program that will be able to rally supporters round it rather than base its policy on PASOK’s unavoidable decline. This may not suffice to bring the conservatives back to power – just as in Germany.