Leading article: Will Angela Merkel finally reveal her true colours?

Germany's leader could be free of political restraints after the election

Share
Related Topics

It has so far been one of the lowest of low-key election campaigns, but this time next week it should be clear what the next German government will look like. And this is not quite the foregone conclusion it looks. For while Angela Merkel looks certain, barring some last-minute surprise, to win a second term as Chancellor at the head of her centre-right CDU-CSU alliance, it is less evident what her coalition options, and so her policy possibilities, might be.

In different circumstances, Ms Merkel might have been contemplating the prospect of governing without a coalition. But the German proportional system militates against that. So does Ms Merkel's temperament. She has fought a muted, critics would say almost non-existent, campaign that has amounted to little more than business as usual. Her pitch focuses on her steadiness and competence and the trust she has undoubtedly inspired in many voters. She is not naturally drawn to the limelight, and campaigning is not her natural metier.

Governing, on the other hand, in a coalition which has to be negotiated and managed, has played to her strengths. The partnership with the centre-left Social Democrats – a "grand coalition" that attracted doom-laden forecasts at the outset – is an arrangement that has generally served Germany well. Steered with growing confidence by Ms Merkel, this combination has seen Germany through a sharp recession and presided over the country's return to international involvement. It has also served Ms Merkel well. After four years as Chancellor, she is a considerable figure, not just on the German, but on the European, and increasingly the world, stage.

The real question to be answered by next Sunday's election is who will form Ms Merkel's coalition this time around. She favours an alliance with the free-market FDP, the small party that has traditionally partnered the CDU-CSU. And the positive feelings are reciprocated. The suave FDP leader, Guido Westerwelle, has said that this would be his party's preference, too.

The FDP has made small but steady gains in the polls, in a campaign that has seen the other parties' projected share of the vote at best remain stable. The big losers look likely to be the Social Democrats (SPD), who currently lag more than 10 points behind the CDU-CSU. In electoral terms, the SPD's years in coalition have been a liability. The party is also losing support to the Linke, an energetically-led party further to the left. With the Greens holding steady, too, the centre-left looks set to be seriously squeezed.

Yet the collapse of the SPD is no foregone conclusion, at least not since the televised debate a week ago. The SPD leader, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, gave a convincing performance to emerge from Ms Merkel's shadow as a potential Chancellor in his own right. His call to reconsider the presence of German troops in Afghanistan was a small coup that encroaches on ground claimed by the smaller parties on the left.

For Ms Merkel, though not for Mr Steinmeier, a new "grand coalition" would be a second-best result, necessitating more of the same painstaking compromise that has marked the past four years. In so far as she has divulged any second-term policies, she seems to see herself in an old-fashioned CDU mould, while her courting of the FDP may suggest an ambition be to revive Germany as Europe's economic powerhouse.

While that could mean an improved climate for business in Germany, Ms Merkel has still to show how much of a tax-cutting, enterprise-orientated free-marketeer she really is. On Sunday, German voters will have to choose: do they trust Ms Merkel enough to govern without centrist constraints, or is what they really want more of the same?

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Wages are on the rise (so long as you skew the figures)

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

It’s two decades since ‘education, education, education’, but still Britain’s primary school admissions are a farce

Jane Merrick
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal