It's not the economy, stupid!

Gerhard Schröder will remain the German Chancellor, but his majority in Parliament has become extremely narrow. His Social Democrats (SPD) got 38.5 per cent of votes, and so did the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) of his rival candidate Edmund Stoiber. The main reason why Schröder won is that his coalition partner, the Greens, became slightly stronger than the Free Democrats (FDP) who would otherwise most probably have formed a center-right government with the CDU/CSU.

Heads or tails? It looks as if the German electorate had refused to make up their mind and had instead tossed up a coin. As a result, the SPD was weakened and the CDU/CSU strengthened - and now, nobody knows exactly what most Germans do want. While Parliament majorities in other EU member states like Britain, France, Italy and Spain are clear, they are not in Germany. This seems to be symptomatic of the country's state of mind: it is blocked. The election result may have fixed that paralysis for the next term of Parliament (2002 - 2006).

The preceding election campaign had foreshadowed that outcome. It was about everything, except for Germany's real and pressing problems. Schröder, who still seemed to be on the losing side in August, desperately tried to get rid of what were the most dangerous issues for him, namely, low growth and high unemployment. He finally succeeded in doing so when he chose to campaign on an anti-American platform, declaring that under his Chancellorship Germany would not support any use of force against Iraq even if a military campaign were authorised by the UN.

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