There are obvious conclusions to be drawn from Germany's election result, and less obvious ones. The obvious ones are that Ms Merkel has won another term, and freed herself from the constraints of a partnership with the centre-left; that the Social Democrats' poor result reflects in part the desertion of the party's left-wing voters to the Linke, and that the Free Democrats' five-point improvement compared with 2005 shows that something similar, if less dramatic, happened on the right. The two big parties that governed as a "Grand Coalition" were, to a greater or lesser extent, punished by a section of their voters for moving to the centre.
The first of the less obvious conclusions is that although Ms Merkel campaigned for a "black-yellow" coalition, she has only got her wish thanks to the record vote for the Free Democrats. Her own conservatives lost votes compared with four years ago, despite her own personal popularity. This means that Guido Westerwelle is in a stronger position to negotiate for Cabinet posts and policies than he might have been – and than Ms Merkel might have expected. The free-market element in the new government's programme may thus be more conspicuous.
The second less obvious conclusion is that, although Ms Merkel's party will have the largest number of seats in the new Bundestag, the Bavarian half of the alliance, the CSU – which has never really taken Ms Merkel to its heart – could become restive. A less loyal CSU could undermine the coalition and what is, for governing purposes, only a slender majority. The Free Democrats, like the CSU, is pro-market; unlike the CSU, though, it is socially liberal. This could cause problems.
Which leads to the third conclusion. Even though the Social Democrats did badly, they remain unchallenged as the second-largest party and the left as a whole – taking in the Social Democrats, the Linke and the Greens – won 46 per cent of the vote compared to 48 per cent for the victorious alliance. Germany thus remains split in two, as it was four years ago, and like so many modern democracies.
Pre-election polls showed that 49 per cent of voters wanted the Grand Coalition to continue, but Ms Merkel's stated preference for a coalition of the right gave them no way of expressing that at the ballot box. The next government's difficulties may be less in getting reformist legislation through the Bundestag than with convincing the German public.Reuse content