Angela Merkel’s return for a fourth consecutive term as Chancellor, with a much-reduced mandate for her Christian Democratic Union, marks a watershed moment in Germany’s post-War history. For the first time since 1949, a far-right nationalist party, the Alternative for Germany (Afd), is in the Bundestag, posing a potentially bracing challenge to Berlin’s predominant political creed of consensus and compromise.
With her natural instinct for caution and pragmatism, Ms. Merkel embodied such a stance, one that was seen as a national trait assiduously cultivated to definitively turn the page on the country’s Nazi past. There is ample evidence of these qualities at work in Ms. Merkel’s remarkably long tenure, which led her to embrace Social Democratic Party policies on minimum wages, at times to the chagrin of her ally in the grand coalition. To be sure, this seemingly anodyne approach came under sharp attack for its ideological ambiguity, but it was a tactic that Ms. Merkel deftly deployed to blunt the opposition. It is, however, nearly impossible to accuse the Chancellor of pandering to the extreme right, so characteristic of the centre-right leadership in several European states in the face of the populist surge against the expansion of the EU and globalisation. The 8-plus percentage point plunge in support for the incumbent CDU and its Bavarian ally over 2013, combined with the all-time low returns for the Social Democratic Party, is a measure of the erosion of the middle ground.
This shift in fortunes is all the more telling given the widespread perception that Germans have never had it so good in terms of economic well-being and political stability. A possible explanation of the nature of the verdict is also that the grand coalition between the arch-rivals, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, pushed voters in search of an alternative at the extreme. A mocking reference of the blurred ideological divisions within the alliance was that there were two SDPs in Germany. Nonetheless, the fact that there has been a steady decline in support for the two major mainstream forces — from about 90% in the 1970s to about 50% — reflects the steady fragmentation of the polity. Conversely, the gains for the AfD follow its capture of the vote in more than 10 states in regional elections. The implication of the verdict is a possible ‘Jamaica coalition’ among the CDU, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, given the Social Democrats’ likely choice to serve as an opposition. There has been speculation that Ms. Merkel, who has defied the recent record of Europe’s politicians even in terms of sheer longevity in office, would look to consolidating her legacy. Revitalising the rules-based post-War liberal world order, one that she committed to as a counter to President Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ agenda, could not be more urgent. Even a year ago, she may have little imagined that her victory would come as such a relief, domestically and globally.
Consecutive: following continuously.
Example: Five consecutive months of serious decline
Synonyms: successive, succeeding, following, in succession, running
Watershed: an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs
Example: These works mark a watershed in the history of music
Synonyms: turning point, milestone, landmark
Brace: fresh and invigorating.Example: The bracing sea air
Synonyms: invigorating, refreshing, stimulating, energizing
Predominant: present as the strongest or main element.
Example: Its predominant color was white
Synonyms: main, chief, principal, most important, primary, prime, central
Creed: a system of Christian or other religious belief; a faith.
Example: People of many creeds and cultures
Synonyms: faith, religion, religious belief, religious persuasion, church
Instinct: imbued or filled with a quality, especially a desirable one.
Example: These canvases are instinct with passion
Pragmatism: a pragmatic attitude or policy.
Example: Ideology was tempered with pragmatism
Stance: the way in which someone stands, especially when deliberately adopted.
Example: She altered her stance, resting all her weight on one leg
Synonyms: posture, body position, pose, attitude
Assiduous: showing great care and perseverance.
Example: She was assiduous in pointing out every feature
Synonyms: diligent, careful, meticulous, thorough, sedulous, attentive
Trait: a distinguishing quality or characteristic, typically one belonging to a person.
Example: He was a letter-of-the-law man, a common trait among coaches
Synonyms: characteristic, attribute, feature, quality, property
Ample: enough or more than enough; plentiful.
Example: There is ample time for discussion
Synonyms: enough, sufficient, adequate, plenty of, more than enough
Chagrin: distress or embarrassment at having failed or been humiliated.
Example: Jeff, much to his chagrin , wasn’t invited
Synonyms: annoyance, irritation, vexation, exasperation, displeasure
Plunge: an act of jumping or diving into water.
Example: We went straight from the sauna to take a cold plunge
Synonyms: dive, jump, nosedive, fall, pitch, drop, plummet, descent
Erosion: the process of eroding or being eroded by wind, water, or other natural agents.
Example: The problem of soil erosion
Blur: make or become unclear or less distinct.
Example: Tears blurred her vision
Synonyms: indistinct, blurry, fuzzy, hazy, misty, foggy, shadowy
Fragmentation: the process or state of breaking or being broken into small or separate parts.
Example: The fragmentation of society into a collection of interest groups
Speculation: the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.
Example: There has been widespread speculation that he plans to quit
Longevity: long life.
Example: The greater longevity of women compared with men
Synonyms: length of life, life span, lifetime, shelf life, durability