Angela Merkel is back. Not that she has been away; but once again she has been returned as German Chancellor. As all the serious journals tell us; she is now on the brink of being the longest-serving female leader in European history, condemning the sainted Margaret Thatcher into second place.
It is true that Merkel is a popular figure in German politics, although the popularity of her CDU/CSU party overall has dropped. That’s OK, though, so did the popularity of the main opposition party, the SDP. Also, the Greens. The left increased, and from a standing start, the anti-EU, anti-euro party, Alternatives Für Deütschland (AfD) managed a vaguely credible 4.7%, not enough for them under the threshold system to get a seat in parliament, but enough to gie them confidence to perhaps get an MEP in the European Parliament elections in May, and maybe after that some local seats.
Of course, the big losers, headline-worthy at least, were the FDP, the pro-business liberal party who formed the junior coalition partner with Merkel’s party. They didn’t even qualify for a single seat in parliament. And with that, Merkel is looking for new friends. It may take some time.
The political betting is on a return to a grand coalition – a collaboration between the DCU and the SDP. It has happened before in Germany – in Merkel’s first term, for example – and elsewhere in Europe; the convergence of ideological opposites seems now a matter of course than the shocking exception to the accepted way of things. As right and left (albeit centre-right and centre-left) converge, is oppositional politics in Europe dead?
The answer, even from a superficial analysis would appear not; but power – that driver of consensus – would suggest the opposite. The politics of contentment, to ever-so-slightly misquote JK Galbraith, is upon us. When the main (ie, powerful) political parties stop being ideological, and fear the electoral impact from their own flank, rather than progress their ideas through confronting and challenging their rivals, then politics is truly doomed in Europe.
Ideology should not be confused with dogmatism, of course, but the easy acceptance by certain political parties that opposition automatically equates to unreasonable political posturing is wrong; honest debate and well-thought through arguments should never be embarrassingly downplayed by politicians. It seems as if power is everything, justifying that power is shameful.
Better to keep your head down, admit or stand for nothing, and hope that your core supporters will get out there and vote for you; you certainly don’t want to attempt to increase support; that might mean genuine engagement, which in turn could genuine debate. And then you have to go off-message, a disaster for any media-trained, professional politician these days.
So anyway, Merkel will probably go with her nominal rivals (although, I would rule out the Greens) to make up that parliamentary majority. In doing so, the country has voted conservative, but will have to concede to the left – no right-minded SDP coalition would allow a CDU member as finance minister. So, you vote right, you get a melange; meanwhile Europe stagnates. Role on 2014.