German Elections: What Does Europe Think?

expert workshop to discuss European perspectives on the German elections



Chaired by

Olaf Böhnke, Head of ECFR Berlin

Mark Leonard, ECFR Director

Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, Head of ECFR Madrid and Head of Reinvention of Europe Programme

Friday, 13th September 2013

9:00 – 12:00 h

Venue: Instituto Cervantes

Rosenstraße 18

10178 Berlin


The ECFR’s expert workshop on Friday 13th September enjoyed good international attendance and an engaged debate. The workshop was divided into two sessions, firstly the heads of ECFR’s Madrid, London, Paris and Warsaw offices outlined the respective national perspective on the German elections in particular, and future of the EU more generally.


Generally, it was reported that there is little awareness among non-German audience that there is a small but genuine possibility that Angela Merkel will not win the upcoming elections. Despite this, Thomas Klau stated that, privately, even social democrats like Hollande are hoping to see Merkel re-elected. Across the board it was mentioned that Merkel is actually fairly popular abroad, she is seen as serious, modest and businesslike. Indeed, the programme of austerity generally associated with Merkel, seems to be finding a surprising amount of support from Warsaw to Madrid. Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, for example, suggested that the Spanish public has realised that many of the real problems they face are due to failure of the national political class, not a failure of Europe itself (or Merkel).


The problem of treaty change was addressed, particularly in relation to David Cameron’s promise to try and force through the repatriation of powers to London. Mark Leonard mentioned the Conservative Party’s fear that the Eurozone countries would agree to minor treaty changes before 2015, as this would undermine Cameron’s position and destabilise the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. 


When the debate was opened up to the expert audience, Council member André Wilkens posed the question of whether Europe had simply become accustomed to “German Europe” and “German austerity.” While some agreed that was indeed the case, Thomas Klau argued that the real problem is not German austerity, but a “German exceptionalism” many Germans are not aware of:  their constitutional and legalistic approach, with complicates and slows down agreements.


A lively debate ensued around the question of sovereignty which Cameron, Hollande and Merkel have all mentioned in the past few months. The bizarre situation was postulated that just at the time when EU-sceptics might be about to take over the European Parliament in Brussels, demanding the repatriation of powers to national capitals, politicians in all European capitals are going to have to get serious about providing long-time solutions to structural problems.


Finally, a right to vote in national elections for EU citizens resident in other EU countries was mooted by some discussants, and found a good deal of support. It was suggested that this might be a way to overcome legitimisation problems and democratic deficit within the EU.