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Analysis

Two election winners meet in Berlin

by Quentin Peel | 15.05.2017

Angela Merkel’s welcoming smile will be even broader than usual when she greets President Emmanuel Macron on the red carpet at the German chancellor’s office in Berlin today.

Not only is she delighted to embrace a passionate pro-European who saw off all opposition from far-right and far-left Eurosceptics to win the French presidency. She is also celebrating the remarkable victory of her own Christian Democratic Union on Sunday in Germany’s most important state election, clearing the way for her almost certain re-election as chancellor at the general election on September 24.

The success of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state and heartland of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), gives the lie to all those inclined to write off Merkel as yesterday’s woman. Even the left-leaning Spiegel magazine admits that she seems “indestructible”. Instead, it is a body blow to Martin Schulz, SPD leader and former European Parliament president, who has seen an early surge in his support fade with the spring blossom.

The SPD has now lost three state elections in a row, and is trailing some 10 points behind the CDU in national polls. Merkel’s party won in NRW thanks to well-focussed campaigning on local issues including policing and road-building – and the chancellor’s image of “strong and stable leadership” in Berlin, to steal a hackneyed phrase. Local CDU leader Armin Laschet is a Merkel loyalist and former MEP, who is a staunch pro-European on the liberal wing of the CDU. The other local victor was Christian Lindner, 38-year-old leader of the liberal Free Democrats, who looks likely to join a coalition government in Düsseldorf – and lead his party back into the Bundestag in September.

The anti-immigration and Euro-sceptic party that was supposed to be Merkel’s bane – the Alternative for Germany – got 7.7 per cent, enough for seats in the state parliament but well short of the 10 per cent it wanted.

The result means Merkel can relax a bit when she meets Macron, although she is too cautious a politician to take her September victory for granted. The two leaders see eye-to-eye on the need to revive Franco-German partnership, restore momentum to the eurozone economy, and preserve EU unity through the looming Brexit negotiations. Given their election timetables – Macron has the vital parliamentary polls in June – they will speak warm words, but they are not going to rush into big new European initiatives.

Even before they meet, it is clear both think Brexit is a very bad idea, but they accept it is going to happen. Neither wants a “disorderly exit” for the UK, but nor are they prepared to agree terms with Theresa May that would undermine the integrity of the EU single market. They are keen to move forward on other ideas – such as closer EU defence cooperation – that may prove easier once the UK has gone. Both are likely to agree that outstanding budget commitments must be settled before the shape of future trade relations can be defined.

The NRW result means Merkel is very likely to remain chancellor, with or without the SPD as coalition partner. She may end up back in coalition with the FDP – more conservative in economics, strict budget disciplinarians, but pro-EU in conviction. That is the reality for Macron, and the reality for May. They had better get used to it.

Edited by Paul Taylor

3 Responses to “Two election winners meet in Berlin”

  • Another case of the Eurosceptic press in the UK getting their predictions wrong. The story was that the EU is about to unravel and that nationalist populist parties would start ousting governments supporting the maintenance of co-operation and stability in Europe. Firstly, the Wilders populists got defeated in the Netherlands and then Le Pen was defeated in France. The UK press was also full of stories, that Merkel was losing her grip in Germany, and that the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) was rapidly gaining ground. The truth is that Merkel is strengthening her position in the run-up to the national election in September and the AfD is not much more than a minor party in the West German heartland.
    It’s a classic case of the tabloid press, and indeed the likes of Mr Farage, being motivated by wishful thinking, rather than in-depth knowledge., otherwise known as “fake news”.

  • By my tally that means pro-EU wins – in about the last year – in: Austria, The Netherland, Bulgaria, Serbia and France. Ukraine and Georgia looking for closer ties. Any maybe a referendum on EU membership in Iceland.

    Somewhere along the line I seem to have missed the collapse of the EU. Did it happen when I wasn’t paying attention? 🙂