Olaf Scholz, the leader of the center-left Social Democrats, narrowly won the night. But now the hard part begins — building a durable governing coalition.
An SPD-led coalition would be in the country’s best interests, but after a knife-edge result, there is no guarantee one will emerge
Less than two years ago, the German Social Democratic party stood at 11% in the polls and appeared to be a moribund political force. Sunday’s knife-edge federal election, in which the SPD narrowly topped the polls with 26% of the vote, represents therefore one of the more improbable political comebacks of recent times. It is also a personal vindication for Olaf Scholz, the party’s candidate for chancellor. As the SPD bumped along in a poor third place, behind the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Greens, Mr Scholz’s conviction that he could still win the top job was treated as fantasy politics from the representative of a party on the road to nowhere. But as his rivals became increasingly accident-prone during a rollercoaster campaign, Mr Scholz’s suggestion that he represented the safest pair of hands to take Germany beyond the Merkel era became ever more plausible.
Whether he will get the chance to do so is still up in the air, and is likely to remain so for some time. The election has delivered a fragmentary political landscape with a near-perfect balance of forces between left and right. Chastened after the worst performance in its history, the CDU nevertheless finished only two percentage points behind the SPD. And while the Greens scored their best-ever result in finishing third, their influence in forthcoming coalition negotiations is almost matched by the economically liberal FDP, which opposes tax rises and is committed to restoring debt restrictions loosened during the pandemic. Preliminary negotiations between these two “kingmakers” will help determine whether the future coalition tilts left or right. Right now, the only certainty is that, for the first time since the 1950s, Germany will be governed by a three-party coalition.
Her 16-year reign is evidence that effective politics doesn’t require losing your humanity.
Europe is losing its moral compass – how will it find its way without Merkel? | Marion Van Renterghem
The pragmatic chancellor’s departure will be a turning point not only for Germany but also the EU
During a farewell tour of European heads of state and government this summer, Angela Merkel went to see the Queen. The few filmed minutes of her arrival in Windsor are irresistible. On one side, the Queen in a green floral dress, her smile controlled by centuries of code and tradition. On the other, a shy-seeming woman in trousers and purple jacket, nodding her head too many times, trying to observe the correct rituals for greeting a monarch. Elizabeth and Angela: two opposite worlds, two entirely different functions, and yet, similarities. Those boring speeches no one dares to make any more. That style, that calm, that stability and that way of embodying their countries.
Merkel now embodies more than Germany; she embodies Europe. She’s a pop icon, who has entered our consciousness like a song. Mugs, T-shirts and even lemon squeezers are sold in her image. But her rise and longevity remain a mystery. How could this woman, so strangely indifferent to the trappings of power, take over a party held for half a century by conservative males, and then be elected four times in a row to lead one of the world’s great powers? How did she become such a role model that a schoolboy once asked her in all innocence: “Can a boy also become chancellor?”