The U.K. wants a reliable negotiating partner for the terms of its Brexit. France wants an ally for its proposed changes in the European Union’s defense and financial structure. Spain wants a powerful supporter of its efforts to halt Catalan independence.
Much of Europe, it seems, wants a stable Germany led by that great symbol of center-right stability, Angela Merkel. But the longtime German chancellor has apparently failed in her efforts to put together a governing coalition after elections in September.
Negotiations between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their Bavarian counterparts the Christian Social Union with the Greens and the market-oriented Free Democrats broke down over a variety of disagreements involving migration, climate change, and fiscal policies. The Social Union democrats, who have in the past served in a “grand coalition” government with Merkel, are no longer interested in propping her up. And the other big party, the right-wing anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), is considered beyond the pale.
Merkel could continue as chancellor under a minority government, but she has indicated she would prefer new elections. Under Germany’s cumbersome procedures to inhibit snap elections, that probably won’t happen until the spring. And there’s absolutely no guarantee that would resolve anything:
Recent opinion polls predict that a new vote would bring little change, compared to the result in September. A Forsa poll released last week showed Ms. Merkel’s conservatives at 32 percent, the Social Democrats on 20 percent, the Free Democrats at 12 percent, the Greens 10 percent and the AfD 12 percent.
The big fear in the background in Europe is that a post-Merkel era is about to begin, even though the chancellor is a comparatively youthful 63. But if she cannot wrestle the German political system into submission, Germany’s ability to dominate Europe is no longer just a fact of life to be accepted. And that opens up all sorts of difficult questions about the continent’s future.