Merkel. Bundeselections seldom inspire
Finally an election in Europe that isn’t racking our nerves.
After the unexpected calamity of Brexit and the second-place finish of Marine Le Pen in France, Germany’s boring election is a welcome reprieve.
Polls point to a comfortable victory for chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) – and why shouldn’t they?
The economy is growing, unemployment is low, the federal budget is in surplus and the refugee crisis has disappeared from the front pages. Between the unpredictable president Donald Trump in the US and an all-too-predictable Vladimir Putin in Russia, Europe looks to Berlin for reassurance.
But German elections seldom inspire. Merkel won last time, in 2013, on a promise of “No Experiments” – the same slogan used by Konrad Adenauer, the founder of her party, in 1957.
The most shocking thing voters have seen this year is a poster of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that shows a smiling white pregnant woman with the text: “New Germans we make ourselves.” The party is unlikely to win more than 10 percent support.
Volumes have been written about the “secret” to Merkel’s success. She has positioned the Christian Democrats firmly in the centre of German politics, taking the wind out of her competitors’ sails.
- She is careful not to get too far ahead of public opinion, but moves fast when events demand it – her about-turn on nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima power plant disaster in Japan being the most-cited example.
- Supporters argue she is sensitive to the wishes of her electorate. Detractors see a chancellor without a North Star. There is truth in all of this, but Germany’s desire for a safe pair of hands predates Merkel.
The country has only had eight chancellors since the end of the Second World War. The US has been through 13 presidents during the same period, Britain had 14 prime ministers and Italy 28.
Germans have learned the hard way to mistrust charisma and not elevate politics to a matter of national survival – nor dismiss it as sport. Better to let it be a dull affair for serious men and women in grey suits.
Try the German way
Other nations don’t need to go through the same experience as Germany to appreciate politics the way it does. You don’t need to have been misruled by a failed artist to understand that a wonkish woman in a pantsuit will make for a better leader than a reality TV star.
Nor must you have suffered at the hands of the most rambunctious man in the history to learn that loudness is not a substitute for competence. The fact that Germany is prosperous and well-run is all the proof we need that politics is better served bland.
It’s a shame for us in the news business – so expect laments in the next few weeks about how “nothing is happening” in the German election – but the German people are better off for it. Nick Ottens is the owner of the transatlantic opinion website Atlantic Sentinel