Germany is having its federal election on September 22. The first major federal election debate between current Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democrats, CDU) and her main challenger Peer Steinbrück (Social Democrats, SPD) took place this past week. It was borderline boring to say the least.
The debate found the two candidates agreeing on many topics. For example, on the issue of a tentative intervention in Syria, both candidates agreed for non-intervention. When faced with questions pertaining to Germany's position within the European Union and the Eurozone, neither candidate took any identifiably strong position and both avoided any confrontation with the other.
Both major political parties are simply making canned political campaign speeches. The center right (CDU) is boasting of the German economic success in a world that is still reeling from the financial crisis and that has yet to recover. It also warns, of course, of the negative impact of raising taxes. The center left (SPD), meanwhile, plays down the German economic success and instead focuses on the widening gap of income disparity and the need for social justice.
The German public will simply have to wait to see if their candidates actually differ significantly on major issues. But both major parties appear to be in consensus on those as well, which has been demonstrated in parliamentary votes over the past few years. This is rare for the internal politics of a European country today.
While there are rumblings that the ruling CDU coalition government with the Free Democrats (FDP) is currently fragile, the polls are generally favoring Merkel. Regardless of the rising skepticism in the European Union about the euro, the backlash against austerity and general loss of faith in the ability of governments to govern, Angela Merkel is still very popular. Many Germans are having a hard time envisioning a German future without their stoic physical chemist and leader of the central right ruling party. Merkel's successful political style has actually earned itself a unique name – "Merkiavellism" – which is a combination between Merkel and Machiavelli.
The father of modern political theory, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, wrote in his seminal work "The Prince" the following about whether it is better to be loved or feared in politics: "One ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting." Merkiavellism, in fact, puts one over on Machiavelli's advice, as Merkel is doing both at the same time – being feared and loved.
Europeans and others fear Merkel outside of Germany for her strident, steadfast stubbornness in her chosen course of action, regardless of the havoc resulting in the markets or on the streets. Yet at home she is loved because she compromises with the centrist left. This has been the key to Merkel's survival.
Currently, Merkiavellism holds a slight majority in the polls, but we should not rule out the possibility of a grand coalition between the two main rival parties, CDU and SPD. If this were to happen it would result in a majority in both houses of parliament – thus the ability to govern.
But looks could be deceiving. While internal German governance may thrive under a grand coalition, it could result in gridlock on the Eurozone crisis issue. Of course, this is only possible if the current coalition of CDU and FDP fails to get a majority in the upcoming election. Most German watchers are predicting that we are in for a very different era even if Merkel remains Chancellor after the September elections because German politics have entered an era of instability.
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