Britain has become comfortable with Mrs Merkel as Europe’s foremost politician. Her sensible demeanour stands her in good stead with a public with an inbuilt suspicion of anybody seen (or supposed) to be peddling greater ambitions for the European Union (as David Cameron’s criticism of José Manuel Barroso bears out). With polls suggesting that she is similarly well thought of among Germany’s voters, most Britons are assuming that things will continue much as they are now once the elections are out the way – notwithstanding residual curiosity over the intricacies of coalition forming, especially after their own recent experience of it.
If Mrs Merkel, thanks to coalition arithmetic, were to be thrown out, Britain might not be quite so sanguine. There’s a real appreciation that Germany has developed the political weight in European matters to match its economic weight, and that any radical shifts in the chancellery will have implications that resonate beyond Berlin. Some informed observers have also expressed concerns that an SPD-led coalition might push the entire EU leftwards, towards policies hitherto associated more with Hollande than with Swabian housewives.
There has, of course, also been interest in the fortunes of the “Alternative for Germany” party, and its promise that other EU countries are starting to ask fundamental questions about the direction of the European project. Informed speculation there centres on whether it will clear the five percent hurdle to secure representation in the Reichstag, and what this means for the FDP.
There is also an awareness that real politics has been on hold in Germany in the build-up to the vote, and some have asked questions about what this will mean once electoral politics are out of the way, whatever the colour of the new coalition. Will it mean a lurch towards a more integrated Europe, or might Mrs Merkel, freed of campaign considerations, echo Mr Cameron’s call for a recalibration of the EU so that it is better able to face the challenges of a more competitive 21st century world? The only thing that is taken as given is that Britain has no illusions that Germany matters.
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