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Issue Guide: What German Vote Means for Europe

Author: Jeanne Park, Deputy Director
September 20, 2013

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Germans will head to the polls this weekend in what has been billed the most consequential and, conversely, the "most boring" election of the year. The country's incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel remains the odds-on favorite—despite a tightening race—but the composition of her ruling government remains in doubt given the complexities of the German electoral system. At stake in the outcome is nothing less than Europe's future economic and political sustainability, seeing as the next German government will be charged with guiding the troubled currency union out of crisis and, at the same time, knitting the continent closer together.

A giant mosaic showing the hands of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A giant mosaic showing the hands of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Photo: Thomas Peter/Courtesy Reuters)
A Vote on the Euro

Economist: One Woman to Rule Them All
This strong endorsement of a Merkel third term calls on the German chancellor to advocate more forcefully for a stronger fiscal union and liberal economic policies both at home and abroad.

New York Review of Books: The New German Question
Oxford historian Timothy Garton Ash asks if Europe's most powerful country can lead the way in building both a sustainable, internationally competitive eurozone and a strong, credible European Union.

Foreign Affairs: The Sleepwalking Giant
The German public wants a boring leader, and that is what this weekend's election will give them. But Angela Merkel is setting Europe up for very turbulent times, writes Jan-Werner Müller.

TIME: Merkel, Europe's Most Important Leader, Faces a Complex Challenge
Catherine Mayer, the magazine's Europe editor, predicts that the outcome of the German election will do little to change the management style of the euro crisis. "Everyone is waiting for a decision that has already been made," she explains.

Project Syndicate: The European Consequences of the German Election
Brookings Institution economist Kemal Derviş acknowledges that although the German election will not bring about the creation of a federal Europe, its outcome will likely speed up the implementation of eurozone decisions.

Guardian: Germany: An Election That Affects Us All
This Guardian editorial endorses Chancellor Merkel's reelection, partially on the grounds that it would be the best outcome for the European debate in Britain.

Spiegel International: Crisis Could Damage Merkel's Campaign
Although Merkel's campaign has encouraged voters to believe that the worst of the euro crisis is behind them, the reality is that Germans will likely be presented with additional bills for saving the embattled currency after the vote, says Der Speigel.

The Greek Factor

New York Times: Why Greece Is Not the Weimar
Roger Cohen sounds a sanguine note about Sunday's elections amid the rise of violent extremism in Greece: "Germany has not yet learned to play the benign superpower. It is time; and after the German election this Sunday there may be a little more wiggle room."

Forbes.com: Will Greece Decide the German Elections? If So, What's Next?
"Those expecting the German elections finally to allow the EU to sort out Greece, and end the eurozone crisis, may be sorely disappointed. They may instead mark the beginning of a new and more worrisome phase," write CFR's Benn Steil and Dinah Walker.

Financial Times: Third Time Lucky? The Latest Plan to Rescue Greece
Sunday's German elections will do little to derail the coming fight over a third Greek bailout, estimated to be anywhere between eleven billion and seventy-seven billion euros, writes the FT's Peter Spiegel.

Ekathimerini: Greece in the German Election Debate
On the eve of this Sunday's elections, Nikos Chrysoloras cautions German voters on the risks of more austerity: "There are limits to how much can you can impose on a democratic society before it implodes into something really ugly."

Foreign Policy

Financial Times: Germany Is a Vegetarian in a World Full of Carnivores
The FT's Gideon Rachman points to Germany's reluctance to participate in a Syrian intervention as an example of its parochial politics, despite its standing as the leading power of Europe.

Carnegie Europe: Merkel's Unfinished Business [PDF]
In this comprehensive report, Strategic Europe's Judy Dempsey maps out the foreign policy priorities for the next German government, which include strengthening the transatlantic relationship, addressing the U.S. "pivot" to Asia, and encouraging Europe to develop a credible security policy.

Deutsche-Welle: U.S. Foreign Policy Looms Over the Election
One of the biggest tests of Germany's willingness to lead will come as the EU and the United States negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; the successful conclusion of an agreement would create the world's largest free trade bloc.

Politico: NSA Spying Looms Large in German Election
The NSA surveillance scandal has given German parties across the political spectrum ammunition to use against the incumbent Merkel, but it is unlikely to cost the popular chancellor another four years in office, writes Emily Schultheis.

Domestic Challenges
Nuclear power plant at Biblis near Frankfurt. Nuclear power plant at Biblis near Frankfurt. (Photo: Johannes Eisele/Courtesy Reuters)

New York Times: Germany's Effort at Clean Energy Proves Complex
Continuing to convert Germany to renewable energy sources and maintaining public support for it will be among Merkel's biggest challenges should she win a third term as chancellor.

VOA News: Minimum Wage Debate Looms Large in German Election Campaign
Despite having the largest economy and lowest levels of unemployment in Europe, Germany remains the only EU member state without a minimum-wage law.

Financial Times: History Keeps Lid on Germany's Immigration Question
Immigration is the electoral issue that mainstream German politicians dare not speak of, given the persistent reluctance among the country's leaders to address differences of origin and ethnicity.

Coalition Calculus

Economist: How Does Germany's Electoral System Work?
The Economist explains how Germany's complex electoral system mixes the "winner-takes-all" approach of the United States with a proportional representation system that allows for smaller parties.

Wall Street Journal: The German Coalition Builder
This WSJ interactive encourages exploration of all the possible coalition governments and how likely a particular combination is.

Spiegel International: Poll Barometer
The German newsmagazine's website has charted eight recent state and federal election polls and provides a coalition calculator.

Financial Times: Germany's "Boring" Election Is Vital to the Eurozone
"The outcome of the eurozone crisis will depend, to a large extent, on how the Social Democratic Party performs at the ballot box," writes the FT's Wolfgang Münchau.

The Globe and Mail: Election in Germany Lacks "Big Issue"
Eric Reguly believes that the chancellor's cautious campaign could shrink her lead and force a grand coalition with the opposing Social Democratic Party. In such a scenario, the "austerity programs favored by . . . Merkel 'would no longer be at the top of the agenda,'" he writes.

CFR Issue Primers

Backgrounder: The Eurozone Crisis
The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed.

Backgrounder: Germany's Central Bank
Germany's Bundesbank remains an influential actor in eurozone policymaking, and its recent disagreements with the European Central Bank raise concerns about managing the zone's debt crisis.

Backgrounder: The Role of the European Central Bank
As Europe's central bank moves aggressively to staunch the continent's crisis, some critics are asking if it has exceeded its mandate by stepping into the breach left open by elected leaders.

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