Merkel’s strength at the polls leaves her searching for a coalition partner

In the wake of arguably Europe’s most important election since the outbreak of the eurozone debt crisis in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decisive showing may ironically prove to be her Achilles heel. Although Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) managed to secure a whopping 41 percent of the vote on Sunday, their victory is in certain respects a hollow one.

The chancellor’s governing partners in the last coalition, the both fiscally conservative and socially liberal Free Democrats, have failed to surpass the all-important five percent hurdle. That means they will not have representation in the upcoming parliament. And Merkel’s Christian Democrats just barely missed securing an absolute majority on their own. Their nearly 8 percent gain compared to the 2009 election result came partially at the expense of the FDP.  So although the Christian Democrats are indisputably the strongest force in German politics, they apparently aren’t strong enough. Germans overwhelmingly confirmed Merkel as chancellor, but effectively voted against her now defunct center-right coalition.

As a consequence, the chancellor will have to seek a coalition partner among one of the opposition center-left parties, with the most likely candidate being the Social Democrats. The CDU and the SPD governed together in a grand coalition from 2005-2009. Other political combinations seem unrealistic. Although Merkel moved to trade nuclear for renewable energy in the wake of Fukushima, she still remains far apart from the Greens on economic and social issues. Likewise when it comes to the socialist Left party, still the pariah of the German political system.

A grand coalition would alter the political landscape in Berlin. The Social Democrats won a respectable 25 percent of the vote and are firmly anchored in a broad base of support. Merkel will not be able to simply twist the SPD’s arm and pull them in her direction, as was the case with the much smaller FDP.

The bottom line: Europe’s political landscape continues its slight tilt leftward. When Greece first asked for a bailout in 2010, Merkel was governing in a secure center-right coalition. She had a conservative ally in neighboring France, Nicolas Sarkozy. Today, Merkel faces the prospect of a coalition with Social Democrats, while a socialist president already resides in the Elysee in Paris. In light of this, the eurozone’s debt-stricken member states may be hoping for a reprieve from biting austerity and more focus on economic stimulus. But they shouldn’t expect drastic change in short order. After all, the SPD – despite its rhetoric – has voted for Merkel’s eurozone policies.

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The Balkan Dilemma: Germany returns to military action

(By Deutsche Welle) Burdened by the genocidal legacy of National Socialism, Germany swore never again to wage war. In part two of a three-part series, DW examines how the country returned to military action in the Balkans.

War returned to Germany’s doorstep when Yugoslavia imploded in ethnic violence. During the winter of 1994, German officials agonized over whether to participate in a NATO-led military intervention aimed at containing the war.

Although the nation’s highest court had declared such interventions constitutional, Germany remained deeply reluctant to use military force for any reason other than defense. But enormous political and moral pressure pushed the Kohl government and the opposition toward a shaky consensus in favor of military action against Serbia.

This consensus faced its trial-by-fire when the Social Democrats and Greens took the reins of power in 1998. In a twist of fate, the traditionally antiwar parties ordered Germany’s first offensive military strike since World War II.

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Germany’s struggle with military power in a changing world

(By Deutsche Welle) Burdened by the genocidal legacy of National Socialism, Germany swore never again to wage war. In part one of a three-part series, DW examines how Germans overcame historic taboos about deploying their military abroad.

In memory of the atrocities committed under the Third Reich, democratic West Germany foreswore war as an instrument of its foreign policy. Its military served a single purpose: To help defend the NATO allies in Western Europe and North America from a Soviet attack.

But when the Berlin Wall fell, the world changed, as did Germany’s role within it. The government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl had just finalized German reunification when a series of conflicts erupted in the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia and Somalia.

As the international community intervened to contain these conflicts, Germans faced a historically uncomfortable question: Should a reunited and fully sovereign Germany become a military power capable of using force on the world stage?

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