On Sunday the EU’s most populous state and economic powerhouse goes to the polls in the 17th German Federal Elections.  The contest pips the incumbent and starlet of the CDU/CSU centre-right Angela Merkel against current Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the centre left SPD.

It’s all for Chancellor Merkel’s to lose.  Despite heading the country during the worst economic crisis of the last 100 years, she remains one of the most popular politicians in the country and has become a force to be reckoned with on the world stage

Mr Steinmeier, for his part, is an extremely capable and intelligent Foreign Minister and would probably make a very good Chancellor, but for the fact that in terms of charisma and charm he is somewhat lacking.  Some SPD circles question whether he was the right candidate to challenge someone as popular as Merkel, though the lack of a viable replacement symbolises the depths to which the SPD has sunk in recent months.

The CDU/CSU are hoping to link up with their erstwhile partners in government, the liberal FDP, but recently concerns have been raised that Merkel’s party will not obtain enough votes to make this happen, meaning that a second successive Grand Coalition could be on the cards.

Grand Coalitions show Germans at both their best – their ability to compromise and arrive at mutually beneficial solutions – and their worst – in that the pace of decision-making slows down the already cumbersome bureaucratic and federal system of government.  No surprise then that Germany-watchers fear the country will continue not to push its weight in EU circles, should a Grand Coalition transpire in the next few weeks.

(A version of this article also appeared in Grayling’s Circum Europa.)

– Rob

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