For a country and a vote that are both so important for Europe, the election campaign now ending in Germany has been remarkable for its lack of excitement. The assumption from the outset has been that Angela Merkel will win a third term as Chancellor, and the contest between her centre-right Christian Democrats and their chief rivals, the centre-left Social Democrats, led by Peer Steinbrück, has been as calm and consistent as Ms Merkel herself – to the point where some have described it as an election without politics.
On the big questions – the future of the EU and its single currency, Berlin’s reluctance to become involved in foreign wars, the components of Germany’s continuing economic success – there is little divergence between the two main parties. In the one televised debate, the differences between Ms Merkel and Mr Steinbrück were so small that it seemed almost like an advertisement for a return to the “grand coalition” many Germans appear to want.
Ms Merkel would prefer to stick with the Free Democrats, keeping the right-ish emphasis on sound money that marks the outgoing government. But for that the FDP must reach the threshold for representation in the Bundestag, which cannot be taken for granted. If it fails, the most likely alternative is a grand coalition of the CDU and SPD, despite the latter spending the campaign playing hard to get.
A more adventurous option would be a CDU/Green alliance, which Ms Merkel’s U-turn on nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster, perhaps unintentionally, made possible.
Whatever Sunday’s result – and Germany could do worse than vote for more of the same – one thing will change almost at once. Much decision-making in Europe and beyond has been on hold for months, the pending election a useful pretext. With a new government in Berlin, the procrastination will have to end.