Germany's Merkel May Need To Include Opponents In Her Coalition

Sep 20, 2013
Originally published on September 20, 2013 4:24 pm
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To Germany now where Sunday's parliamentary election is being closely watched across Europe. The latest opinion polls indicate that Chancellor Angela Merkel will win a third term, but the polls also show dwindling support for the political parties that make up Merkel's coalition government. If the predictions are accurate, then Merkel might have to include her opponents in the next German government. From Berlin, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports on what that means to Germany and to the rest of Europe.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Outside the Reichstag, German voter Brigitte Enke(ph) says she's disappointed in the run up to elections that will soon seat a new parliament inside this historic building.

BRIGITTE ENKE: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The 34-year-old professional gardener says she doesn't find the candidates or their plans for Germany inspiring. Enke is not alone. Polls here show the campaign season failed to captivate millions of her compatriots. Most Germans feel disconnected from the prosperity their government brags about. Near record low unemployment and a strong economy envied by other Europeans have eclipsed German fears about rising costs, a shortage of affordable housing and the lack of a minimum wage.

Constanze Stelzenmueller is senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

CONSTANZE STELZENMUELLER: A lot of people are frustrated. A lot of people feel that they're not being represented or, in fact, talked to by the parties, and you can see that by the rising number of people who, according to the polls, say they don't want to vote at all.

NELSON: Many other Europeans are following Germany's election season far more closely. Juan Gomez is the Berlin correspondent for the Spanish El Pais newspaper. He says his editors are eager for daily stories on the race.

JUAN GOMEZ: Well, many people hope that there's going to be some kind of change in Berlin after this election, that if Merkel would lose, something would be different and German politics would be less harsh towards their partners in southern Europe.

NELSON: Change may be coming. While Merkel is unlikely to be replaced as chancellor, some analysts say she will have to change her approach to struggling eurozone countries if her ruling coalition partners fail to get enough votes. That outcome appears likely based on the latest polls. Twenty million German voters are still undecided or don't plan to cast ballots at all. That's left Merkel's Christian Democrats and their left-leaning opponents in a race that's too close to call. And her coalition's junior partners, the liberal, pro-business Free Democrats, may not get enough votes to get into the Bundestag at all.

Without the critical votes, Merkel will likely forge a ruling coalition with her main opponents, the Social Democrats, says Olaf Boehnke, who heads the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

OLAF BOEHNKE: If we will end up in a grand coalition, which is mostly favored by most of the Germans, then she would have a strong mandate because then they will probably have a two-third majority in the parliament or at least close to that.

NELSON: That could mean welcome news for southern Europeans. Germany's Social Democrats are likely to push for stimulus packages to help weaker eurozone members rather than demand austerity measures like Merkel did. Some analysts also foresee the next German government easing its pressure on European Union member states to cede more control to Brussels. That means the move toward a single European banking union to oversee banks across the continent could stall, even though such supervision is widely seen as vital to preventing another eurozone crisis.

Analyst Boehnke adds that the next German government could also prove frustrating to the Obama administration, especially when it comes to military matters. He says Germany's outright rejection of military intervention in Syria suggests Merkel is already wavering on her past willingness to provide at least logistical help during some conflicts.

BOEHNKE: Whatever government comes, the signal from Berlin is no. We think it's important to intervene in Syria, but the Germans won't be with you.

NELSON: Boehnke adds that a grand coalition government will only stiffen German resolve not to get the military involved outside of Germany's borders.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.