Despite having its hypocentre off the coast of Japan, the earthquake which destroyed the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011 was felt all the way in Berlin. The experience was not of aftershocks you could measure on the Richter scale, but of a seismic shift in political policy following a disaster in a country 8,800 km away.
There has always been fierce opposition to nuclear power amongst the environmentally conscious German electorate and faced with the evident dangers of leaking reactors in Fukushima, Angela Merkel took extraordinary measures to calm fear amongst the German public. Declaring a spectacular U-turn in her energy policy, Merkel committed to the decommissioning of all nuclear power plants by 2022, replacing them with green alternatives instead. The word for this change, Energiewende (energy revolution), which like Doppelgänger and Zeitgeist is also a term used in the English lexicon, plays on the name given to the time of substantial political change in the 90s known as die Wende, in which the GDR fell and East and West Germany united.
But no such gargantuan political tremors rippled through the recent German election. Voters learned from the nuclear power U-tern that although Angie can adequately respond to political upheaval when absolutely necessary, she doesn’t create any of her own. Merkel, as expected, was therefore comfortably returned to office for a historic third term, demonstrating the confidence of many Germans who are happy with how she has dealt with the Euro crisis, as she has sheltered Germany from the depressing austerity which plagues other parts of Europe. Her election campaign centred on her safe pair of hands and flipped the term “Mutti” (mummy) once used to mock her, into a badge of honour. For Merkel, things pretty much went according to plan — as they tend to do in Germany.
Her former government will now take on a caretaker role until negotiations lead to a new coalition, which will be formed around Christmas time. For now it looks increasingly likely that another grand coalition will be formed with the SPD (Social Democratic Party) who previously shared power with Merkel’s CDU (Christian Democratic Union) between 2005 and 2009. A coalition with the Greens would also be possible, although fundamental policy differences make this an unlikely outcome. Merkel was the clear winner from this election. Given her success, if a grand coalition is formed, she will only have to realign slightly to the centre ground, for good manners sake, where German politics is traditionally thrashed out. Merkel will probably have to make one substantial concession to the SPD in order to bring them to the negotiation table, namely their big policy: a national minimum wage of 8,50 euros.
For most Germans though Merkel’s continued leadership will mean business as usual; the economy will continue to tick over, the trains will run on time, beer will be drunk, and sausages will be eaten. It looks like things are set to carry on in Germany as they always have done.
On the whole then, the German election supplied little in the way of drama, suspense or surprises that some of us look for in politics. It was only the abysmal performance of Merkel’s former coalition partners the FPD (FREIE) who gained a grand total of zero seats in the Bundestag which rendered the German election one milligram of morphine less painfully dull. Schadenfreude or what?
Some people think German politics is rather pale in comparison to the drama of its Anglo-American counterparts and the verbal jousting that is unique to their adversary parliamentary chambers. German politics might seem rather dull because it deals in negotiation, long-term planning, sustainability and above all, stability. These are not exactly key words in the dictionary of our political elite who are busying themselves with Royal Charters into press standards, government shut-downs, Leveson Inquires, expenses scandals (duck-pond-politics), or more recently ‘Pleb-gate politics’.
Tedious or not, the stability which Angela Merkel personifies continues to be Germany’s trump card. Merkel doesn’t like political earthquakes and won’t seek to create any. Once the coalition talks are over and the new government is formed, expect things to carry on very much as they have been; Germany as the powerhouse of Europe with Merkel firmly at the reins.