The Fight for Middle Germany

BERLIN – Germany has made its choice. It voted the grand coalition out of office with a bang, consigning the Social Democrats to the political abyss.  Only ruins remain of the once-proud Gerhard Schröder’s SPD. Despite a clear win for the center-right, the Christian Democrats (CDU) did not escape unscathed. But while their losses were moderate, CDU’s Bavarian sister-party, the CSU, experienced a debacle second only to the Social Democrats.

So it looks like SPD hit rock bottom, CSU is in freefall, and CDU the worse for wear. The clear winners are Guido Westerwelle and his Liberal party, followed by the Left, and the Greens – all three of which got their highest vote count ever.

But the reality is a bit more complicated. The clearest winner is Angela Merkel. The chancellor played for high stakes, seemingly against the odds, and hit the jackpot. Unlike her party, she is now stronger than ever. So will we see a new Merkel, a chancellor who, freed from the restraints of SPD in the governing coalition, will be more decisive, reformist, and willing to take political risks?

Don’t bet on it. Merkel barely avoided political oblivion in the last general election, after the CDU had embraced market radicalism and then campaigned on it in 2005. Her savior came in the unlikely form of the then Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose wild performance on election night handed her the chancellorship.