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Merkel in the Land of Smiles

BERLIN – Germany’s elections are over. The winners and losers are clear, and the political landscape has changed profoundly. The real drama, however, occurred not among the country’s main parties but on the boundaries of the political spectrum.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is celebrating a landslide victory, with her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) having fallen just short of an outright parliamentary majority. But the scale of her triumph is mainly due to the collapse of her liberal coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which for the first time in the German Federal Republic’s history will not be represented in the Bundestag.

The liberals have always formed a key part of German postwar democracy; now they are gone. Responsibility for that lies, first and foremost, with the FDP. No governing party can afford such woefully incompetent ministers and leadership; Merkel had merely to stand back and watch the liberals’ public suicide over the last four years.

The opposition parties, too, paid the price for their failure to come to grips with reality. The economy is humming, unemployment is low, and most Germans are better off than ever before. But, rather than focusing on the government’s weaknesses – energy, Europe, education, and family policy – they bet their political fortunes on social justice. Merkel’s Panglossian campaign was much more in tune with the sentiment of the German electorate than the opposing parties’ tristesse about working-class distress, which was rightly seen as a ploy for raising taxes.