Roger Koeppel: What matters is reform, not who runs the shop

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The result is an unstable situation for Germany, triumph for those who never wanted change anyway, but no clear mandate for a capable government.

Regardless of the difficult weeks ahead, the facts will not change. Germany is crumbling under a gigantic mountain of debt. Unemployment remains at a record high. The economy is slowing down and companies are moving away.

What we need is liberalisation and deregulation. We need to go back to the classic economic models whose success was proved time and time again during Germany's economic miracle.

The German conservative party is not like the British Tories, a heap of rubble that still has not got over the end of the Thatcher era. Nonetheless, it does not have a clear identity. Its ideas are meek and far from neo-liberalism a la Thatcher or Hayek.

Although they try to be as soft as possible, conservatives in Germany always suffer from a bad conscience. At the moment, they are trying to be even fairer and friendlier than the Social Democrats. They have nobody courageous enough to stand up and confront the problems with realistic solutions.

And it is impossible for somebody who is not sure of their own ground to convince voters they are right. Angela Merkel must be given credit for revitalising her party and leading it in the right economic direction. But she was never fully accepted and never achieved enough backing within her own party.

One clear message came out of Germany on Sunday. The country does not want Ms Merkel for its leader. Chancellor Schröder is held in higher esteem and, had the election campaign lasted a little longer, he probably would have been the clear winner.

Would it really be bad for Germany if Mr Schröder were to remain Chancellor? Not necessarily. Mr Schröder is a very flexible - if not to say opportunistic - politician.

During the election campaign he regained his party's trust by speaking the language of the old left. But if he were to remain Chancellor he would immediately have to become a reformist again.

To speak frankly, Mr Schröder would be the better leader of a grand coalition than the greatly weakened Ms Merkel. And they both know it.

For Germany, it does not really matter who eventually runs the shop. The main thing is that reform is carried out as quickly and as decisively as possible. In the run-up to the last German elections, a well-known British newspaper commented that Germany should be reformed from the left. Maybe our British colleagues are right this time as well.

The author is editor of Die Welt

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