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04 October 2013

European and foreign policy changes under Merkel III?

While the world awaits the formation of a new German government, there is much speculation as to how Germany should use its strong position, both in the EU and with the transatlantic partnership. However, Merkel is not expected to change her steady-hand approach for a bolder or more visionary one.

Partially translated from the French

In a piece for Carnegie Europe, Judy Dempsey argues that Angela Merkel Merkel will come under pressure from Southern European eurozone countries to ease up on the austerity measures she insisted upon in return for substantial loan guarantees. Greece may soon request a third loan, raising questions about the merits of continuing to bail out the country.

If Europe’s Southern periphery is hoping for any relief from the Social Democrats sharing power with Merkel, they could be mistaken - throughout the euro crisis, the Social Democrats have supported Merkel’s position. With an electorate that has clearly endorsed Merkel’s handling of the crisis, the Social Democrats do not have much room for maneuver on this issue.

In London, writes Dempsey, David Cameron, must be cock-a-hoop about Merkel’s victory. He believes that Merkel is amenable to his wish list on EU treaty reform, which includes repatriating powers from the European Commission in Brussels back to the Member States. Were that to happen, he might be able to win the UK referendum on EU membership planned for 2017.

She is convinced that if a "grand coalition" does emerge in the coming weeks, it could be good news for Europe. For far too long, eurosceptics across Europe have been able to flourish because Merkel rarely said where Germany stood on Europe. Now, Germany’s new government has to take a stand. And that will also mean understanding that Germany and the EU must act strategically. For far too long, Germany’s foreign policy has been reactive and uncritical. 

Writing in the GuardianUlrike Guérot argues that Germany’s views on the European crisis won't change after the elections. Post-election, Germany will still be cautious and resistant to grand plans, no matter how much Europeans want it to act - hopes of real progress are based on a misreading of Germany and are likely to be confounded. Germany's domestic preoccupations tend to be underestimated by outsiders. Its evident economic strengths and their own comparative weaknesses have led the rest of Europe to regard modern Germany as a cash-rich colossus of our age. But despite its successes, it has real concerns that have come out in the election campaign.

Germans are also concerned about the institutional direction in which Europe is going. From elsewhere in the EU, for instance, Banking Union is seen as a key part of the solution to the crisis, to stabilise the European project and to disentangle state finances from bank finances. But Germany has dragged its feet on this, and the legal and political hurdles that are being thrown up to this and other areas of reform that make Germans feel instinctively uneasy are unlikely to disappear once any new coalition government has taken power. Germany has become used to its slow, pragmatic and legalistic approach to dealing with the crisis, and – unless dangerous instability returns to the markets – it will not change this.

“More of the same from Germany?” asks Denis McShane in the Social Europe Journal. He poses 10 questions to analyse the likely developments after the German elections, concluding that Merkel has every right to savour her triumph which is without precedent in recent European political history. Her cautious approach has won German endorsement. But Germany needs to grow faster and find answers to its demographic problem and, above all, Germany needs to answer its own European question. The challenges for Mrs Merkel are just about to begin.

"New term to do what?" is the question raised by Dominique Seux in an editorial for Les Echos. He writes that the Elysée, which had long hoped for a victory of Angela Merkel’s opponents or at least a grand coalition which would influence the CDU’s stance, had suffered a setback in this regard as the belief that such a coalition would fundamentally change Berlin’s line was illusory. The differences between the CDU and the SPD are very different in nature from those found between the UMP and PS in France. However, with a victory such as Angela Merkel’s in the last election, her role not just as German Chancellor but also as European politician of premier rank had been strengthened. 

On the external side, Berlin can no longer maintain its vague and hollow rhetoric on the organisation of Europe. Angela Merkel will enter the list of chancellors who made ​​history - she managed a historic election performance, now she has to convert this into action.

Finally, writing for the Atlantic Community, David Francis addresses three things that Merkel could do to improve the US-German partnership. He argues that Angela Merkel's victory in Germany's recent federal elections deepens the transatlantic divide between Europe and the United States. The Obama administration would like Germany and Merkel to take a more forceful leadership role in the European Union, but Merkel has repeatedly failed to do this. To repair things, Merkel needs to make a bolder commitment to NATO, ease up on the NSA criticism, and make TTIP a German priority. He elaborates on these thoughts in an article for the ECFR

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