It has been a sensationally dull electoral campaign, but the
result is anything but. Angela Merkel remains Chancellor, but she can now
discard the unloved alliance with the Social Democrats and govern with a
conservative-liberal majority which last ruled Germany in the 1990s.
The Free Democrats, who have built most of their electoral appeal on a
message of lower taxes, score the best result in their history. The Free Democrats’s
resounding success is a personal triumph for Guido Westerwelle, their
undisputed leader now slated to become Germany’s next foreign minister.
But perhaps the most striking result of Sunday’s election is the
debacle the voters brought on Germany’s
shell-shocked Social Democrats. Not only has the SPD been ejected from the
national government after eleven years in power; they have suffered the worst
result in Germany’s
post-war history and lost a third of the vote they garnered four years ago.
Their defeat is partly the consequence of the success of Die Linke, the
far-left socialist party who have now establish themselves as a fifth force in
German politics; it is obviously part of a wider European trend making
life difficult for traditional left-of-centre parties in many European
countries. Whilst the prospect of an alliance between Christian-Democrats and
Liberals resting on a solid parliamentary majority should herald four years of
political stability in Germany,
the success of Die Linke confronts Germany with the prospect of a
complex five-party-system where three parties – the SPD, Die Linke and the
Greens – vie for the left-of-centre vote.
As Westerwelle’s image and message so far were those of a
politician most committed when he addressed economic policy issues, his first
steps on the foreign policy stage will be watched with considerable interest.
Historically, the trend across Europe and in
the world in the last few decades has been a growing involvement of government
leaders in foreign policy issues, leading in some cases to a diminished role
for the foreign minister. Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle know each
other well from their joint days in opposition during the government of Gerhard
Schröder and Joschka Fischer, and their personal chemistry is said to be good.
It is unlikely that foreign or European policy issues will lead to frictions
future coalition. Westerwelle, an avowed fan of US-President Barack Obama and a
critical but committed transatlantic, backs the German presence in Afghanistan
and has repeatedly affirmed his support for the two main pillars of German
foreign policy – the commitment to European integration in close partnership
with France and the transatlantic relationship. In a foreign policy speech he
gave last May, he explicitly endorsed the principle of continuity in Germany’s
What remains to be seen is whether Westerwelle, a man of great
ambition and of considerable authority within his party, will achieve more in
the next four years than the competent foreign policy management of his
predecessor Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Westerwelle has taken pains in recent months to demonstrate his
closeness to his great liberal predecessor Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Germany’s
hugely influential foreign minister from 1974 to 1992. Genscher helped write
history many times and was the catalyst of major breakthroughs in European
integration such as the Euro. The four-year-rule of the cumbersome grand coalition
in Berlin saw Germany
become more inward-looking and more reluctant in exercising European
leadership, thus losing some of its influence as the EU’s big member state most
consistently committed to a stronger Europe.
The success of his Free Democrats means that Westerwelle has propelled
himself from the national onto the European and global stage. His place and
prestige there will be largely determined by his ambition and success in
building on the work of Genscher and Joschka Fischer and act as a dynamic innovator
in European politics.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.