In federal elections last month, Angela Merkel made history by becoming the longest-serving female chancellor of Germany. In addition, Germany provided an example of near social and political consensus, in stark contrast to the political paralysis gripping the United States
This is Merkel’s third term in office, an impressive feat considering the volatile political climate of Europe. Under her leadership, Germany has remained one of the most financially stable countries in the European Union, even during the ongoing Eurozone crisis.
Yet she does not possess a strong political image, according to some. The Washington Post reports that she is frumpy, boring and not charismatic. The only reason she won is that the average voter in Germany aged around 50 – is looking for a conservative, cautious leader to mirror their own interests.
Whether or not this is true, her austerity policies have resulted in Germany receiving quiet dominance over Europe by virtue of its strong economy.
Merkel’s party is the center-right CDU/CSU, commonly referred to as the Union. It consists of two sister parties: the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria. The Guardian reported that the Union received 41.5 percent of the vote in this year’s election. This resulted in the party securing 311 Bundestag seats, with all but five needed to have an absolute majority in parliament. The Union is fiscally conservative, and austerity policies in combination with disciplined, calm leadership from Merkel have helped Germany maintain low unemployment rates, says CNN.
The Free Democratic Party, the normal coalition partner of the Union, is a center-right supporter of privatization, deregulation and reduction of national debt. For the first time since its founding after World War II, the FDP did not receive enough votes to get any seats in parliament at all. This means that Merkel will have to seek partnership with another party in order to have a stable, smooth-running government.
Merkel’s options for coalition partner are either the Social Democratic Party of Germany or Alliance ‘90/The Greens. The SDP, traditionally the opposition party to the Union, won 192 seats in parliament. A liberal supporter of the welfare state and social justice, it would seem like an illogical choice for coalition partner. But it is actually the most likely option, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Merkel’s other option, the Green Party, is another liberal opposition party that focuses on ecological and social matters. It received only 8.4 percent percent of the vote, a significant decline from its previous 11 percent.
While both these parties might seem like they would not make good partners with the conservative Union, the only other player – Die Linke, commonly referred to as the Left Party – is a worse choice. Described as left-wing and even extremist, the Guardian called it “anti-capitalist and pro-social justice.” It is highly unlikely that the Union and the Left will ever partner up.
What is most likely, according to the New York Times, is a “grand coalition” of the Union and the SDP that unites the fiscal stability of the Union with some of the more progressive social movements of the SDP. Also, the SDP has for the most part supported Merkel’s austerity policies. Thus, should the Union and the SDP form a coalition, the rest of Europe will probably not see the softening of economic policies that it was hoping for.
Among the concerns for the new German government is the rising number of European Union members who will require bailouts. Greece is especially a problem, as they will be asking for their third bailout from Germany, according to CNN.
In response, factions like the Alternative for Germany party have risen. Calling for extreme austerity movements, the AFD want to expel weaker members of the European Union, like as Greece, until they regain economic stability. They were very close to the necessary parliamentary entry level of 5 percent of the vote, and their rise in strength helped oust the FDP from parliament.
Merkel faces a tough climate with a lot of challenging decisions, both at home and internationally. But her calm, stoic leadership has brought her this far and almost certainly will continue to.