After hard win, challenges stare at Merkel

By Cui Hongjian Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/26 21:48:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Angela Merkel won a fourth straight term as Germany's Chancellor without suspense after her Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/Christian Socialist Union (CSU) won 33 percent of the vote in federal elections. Meanwhile, the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) achieved a historic breakthrough, becoming the first far-right party to sit in parliament in more than half a century.

Organizing a cabinet is now a priority for Merkel. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz confirmed earlier that his party would not renew its "grand coalition" with CDU/CSU, but sit in the opposition. A black-yellow-green Jamaica coalition between the CDU/CSU, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens seems to be the only feasible choice for Merkel.

It may take some time for a coalition government to form, as the CDU/CSU will have to negotiate with the FDP, its coalition partner of 12 years, and the Greens, a party that it has never cooperated with and belongs to a different political camp.

More importantly, Merkel's choice of cabinet is closely related to the AfD's political destiny. If the "grand coalition" were formed, the AfD would be highly likely to become a major opposition party and thus would have enormous space for growth, thwarting attempts at European integration and opposing Merkel's refugee policy.

The federal election apparently lent a semblance of stability to the situation, but in reality it only postponed some major problems. The ultra-right and ultra-left political forces have already won more than 20 percent support in the country. This is a major challenge for Germany's future politics and society.

No consensus has been reached so far within Germany's mainstream political parties on how to respond to this political "new normal," which is also a challenge for seasoned Merkel.

The "tranquility" of German elections contrasts with the "boisterousness" that characterizes the electoral process in the US and other European nations. This, to a large extent, is true because Germany's federal election has shouldered the responsibility of providing stability and consensus politics, which has meanwhile placed the country on a risky pedestal. If the Merkel government cannot address euro reform, the refugee crisis, anti-terror cooperation and sustainable development in the next four years, Germany's political future is hard to predict.

In the meantime, German politics' "ultra-stability" poses a question to the country and Western democracy in general.

Germany's election results, as anticipated by Western mainstream politics, are an outcome of the uniqueness of the country's politics, but the liberal democracy's easy-to-compromise political culture, Merkel's charismatic leadership and the country's economic advantages can hardly be replicated by other European and Western nations.

If it is her last term in office, Merkel will surely accumulate political legacies in economy and diplomacy. Therefore, it is expected that the relationship between a pro-establishment Merkel and an anti-establishment Donald Trump can hardly be better in the next four years, given their divergence in concepts about development path and their different political identities.

Meanwhile, Germany and France are unlikely to reach a consensus on euro reform and other major issues given their divergent interests.

Merkel's re-election has ensured continuity of Sino-German ties. Germany's economic strength and its influence in the Western world, strengthened through the federal election, have buttressed its status as one of the most important partners of China. However, whether the German government can treat China as its main partner at this key stage of industrial development remains to be seen.

Germany should first address the issue of its identity within Europe and the West. If the country regards itself as a representative of Europe and even the West, Sino-German ties, which have seen rapid development, may encounter barriers. This is why Chinese observers are relieved, yet concerned, about the "tranquility" of German elections and the country's political stability.

The author is director of the Department for European Studies of China Institute of International Studies.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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