Falling for Germany

PRINCETON – Germany’s general election in September and the prolonged formation of a new government since then have highlighted a peculiar development. Not only does Germany now seem to be running Europe, but the rest of Europe seems to be falling in love with Germany – not least because, in a time of political confusion and economic instability, Germans are the only Europeans who seem to know what they want.

Germany’s exceptionalism is obvious. Whereas electorates across the European Union have punished their governments for the Great Recession and the euro crisis, Germans reelected Chancellor Angela Merkel and displayed strong support for her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in the recent election. Indeed, as with postwar Germany’s first leader, Konrad Adenauer, there are jokes about Merkel being Chancellor for life (Germany has no term limits).

Elsewhere, populist anti-European parties of the right have been gaining ground with campaigns directed against immigrants and minorities, especially Muslims. This has fueled concern that the populist bloc will be the largest in the European Parliament after next year’s EU-wide election.

Germany, by contrast, has no anti-European party with any serious support. Even the newly formed Alternative for Germany – which did unexpectedly well in the recent election, finishing just short of the 5% threshold needed to enter the Bundestag – insists that its anti-euro agenda is not anti-Europe. They want to end the common currency, because, in their view, it is undermining the European ideal.