In Berlin, Political crisis tarnishes Germany’s trademark stability

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After an inconclusive election campaign, Chancellor Merkel finds herself considerably weakened and short of partners with the country's politics drifting into uncharted waters

The political crisis in Berlin
challenges the idea of “German exceptionalism”as an anchor of democratic
stability and a bulwark against a wave of populism, analysts said
Tuesday. In the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s chief of staff Peter Altmaier, a “stable and reliable government … is our trademark, like ‘Made in Germany'”.

But
the collapse of coalition talks between Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU
alliance, the pro-business FDP and left-leaning ecologist Greens flung
German politics into uncharted territory.
Overnight, Europe’s economic and political heavyweight was left without a viable coalition for weeks, if not months, to come.
Instead,
it has a lame-duck government unlikely to take bold policy action at a
time when the European Union needs a strong hand as it negotiates
Britain’s exit, and while Paris seeks Berlin’s support for bold reform
plans.
“The bitter truth is that Germany
has been waiting for years for a French partner willing to meet it
head-on as an equal power –- only to now find itself as the problem, as
France emerges once again as the instigator of fresh economic and
political purpose in the EU,” said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
daily.

Europe’s latest problem

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who now holds the cards due to his constitutional power to call snap polls, underlined the seriousness of the situation.
“We
have before us an unprecedented situation in the history of the Federal
Republic of Germany, that is, in the last 70 years,” he said, urging
political leaders to reconsider their positions and return to the
negotiating table.
With the Social
Democratic Party stubbornly refusing to renew an alliance with Merkel
after their humiliating defeat in September’s polls, the veteran
chancellor has little room to manoeuvre.
She
could seek a minority government — an option she shuns because of its
inherent instability — or face new elections, likely not before
February.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has the constitutional power to call snap polls but has warned party leaders of the seriousness of "an unprecedented situation in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany"

German
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has the constitutional power to call
snap polls but has warned party leaders of the seriousness of “an
unprecedented situation in the history of the Federal Republic of
Germany”
(AFP/File)

But
fresh polls carries a high risk, as Merkel could lose still more voters
to the AfD, a party that has harnessed anger over her liberal refugee
policy that brought 1.2 million asylum seekers since 2015.
In
addition, her Bavarian allies the CSU are engulfed in intense
infighting which would spell a major distraction in a new electoral
campaign.
“No matter what Merkel does
next, Germany has become Europe’s latest problem,” said Judy Dempsey,
analyst from political think-tank Carnegie.
“The expectation that the country, under Merkel’s helm, would be predictable and stable is no longer a given.”

‘Paralysed nation’

The
fact that Merkel was forced to ask parties of very different stripes to
form a coalition government was in itself due to the reality that
Germany is not immune to the wave of populism sweeping the West.
The
September 24 election saw the rise of the anti-immigration protest
party the AfD with 13 percent of the vote, a shock in a nation where no
far-right party had entered parliament in large numbers in the
post-World War II ear.
The entry of
dozens of lawmakers of the protest party fractured the political
landscape further, making it harder to build a majority.
Thomas
Kleine-Brockhoff of the German Marshall Fund noted that “for the first
time since 1949, there is no majority grouping willing to form a
government.”
“The stable colossus in the middle of Europe is suddenly instable. This will have severe consequences.
“Some
of the ripple effects are unknowable at this point, but even the likely
consequences are remarkable,” he said, adding that “all we know is that
this process will need time to sort itself out — time during which
Germany will be a paralysed nation.”

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