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Germany

No arguments, no visions - we must be doing well

The election campaign is over. A new parliament and a new government will be sworn in soon. Will the political parties’ efforts pay off? DW’s Volker Wagener doesn’t think German voters really want change.

What a boring election campaign, I said to my colleague from work the other day. We were traveling on the tram and I summed up my perception of the past few weeks in Germany: no content, no controversy, and no visions whatsoever. He just gave me a silent stare. He is from Russia. He knows both life in Germany and in Russia. I only know Germany. "You have to look at Germany from outside to appreciate it," he says. And then he launched into a long monologue.

Volker Wagener. (Photo: DW/Per Henriksen)

DW's Volker Wagener

Germany, he said, is the only leading nation to have braved the crises that began with the Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy in 2008. It's been largely unaffected, whereas other countries in the European Union have been piling up mountains of debt ever since. The economic situation is stable, employment has reached record highs and the country's social security fund is filled to the brim. Just look at how the country is even looking for trainees and finds them abroad? There is also hardly any inflation.

"What are Germans complaining about," he asks, adding that Germany serves to others as a role model when it comes to how stable, prosperous and organized it is. And: one in three Russians would vote for Merkel, he says, ending his monologue.

I'm confused. That's how well we Germans are doing? Why don't I know about it?

Europe has become more German

It IS true – we are doing fine. We're doing so well that we can even postpone important reforms and just enjoy the fruits we've harvested that were planted by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD). He considerably cut down social welfare measures under the program called 'Agenda 2010.'

Now, Angela Merkel is benefiting. It's history's irony. Angela Merkel has postponed her own reform plans indefinitely. Well, ok, her second term in office was determined mainly by unpredictable events: the nuclear accident in Fukushima, and the debt crisis in Southern Europe. Nobody could have foreseen either of the two. But act, the chancellor did. In both cases. The atomic meltdown in Japan was what gave Germany the big turnaround in energy policy, the Energiewende. Merkel, a physicist by trade and for a long time a convinced promoter of nuclear power, over night abolished that source of energy for good. That's remarkable. But it's not what coined her second term in office.

History books will mention her mainly as the manager of the euro and the manager of debt. Eurozone rescue measures were what shaped the agenda of the coalition government between Angela Merkel's conservative CDU (and Bavarian sister party, the CSU) and the FDP, Germany's liberal party.

Managing the eurozone crisis was what earned Merkel respect. But not by everyone. Angela Merkel and her rigid path of austerity which she forced upon Greeks, Spaniards and all other ailing states facing bankruptcy also made her the target of a lot of harsh and continuous criticism. There can be no doubt: The EU has become more German since the crisis began. If the EU was a company, Merkel would be its CEO. Just look at the current standstill in Brussels. For weeks now, important topics have been shelved. Everybody is waiting for Germans to cast their vote at last so that business can continue. But the question is: with whom?

Crisis elsewhere, Germans happy – for how much longer?

The boring and largely content-free election campaign has demonstrated one thing: Germans are pleased with themselves and with their economic situation. Europe is in the middle of a crisis, alarm bells are ringing across the south of Europe, but Germans are sleeping soundly at night.

It borders on smugness how we take in the admiration we're getting from other countries. Yes, we do think it's right to ask Italians and Spaniards, Greeks and Irish to tighten their belts until they find it hard to breathe before they get money out of the EU's community coffers. It borders on a paradox that Germany has become a global player because Chancellor Merkel has been dictating austerity and reforms to indebted countries. Well, a global player at least in the fields of finance and European politics. But not at all in the field of foreign affairs, where Merkel has been notably absent. Ask Berlin whether it will assume responsibility in the Syrian conflict – and the answer is still: Nein, danke!

Germany ahead of the elections: The only thing that's actually exciting is the event itself. The election campaign has been void of content and was long determined by the chancellor's dominance. But now, it's getting tight down the home stretch. If Angela Merkel in the end does come first in the race, it's because of the way she's steered the ship through the rocky reefs of the eurozone crisis. She has shown rigor and consistency – and voters like that kind of thing, including those from other political fields.

Nobody knows the price we may have to pay for those policies yet. But at the moment, nobody cares either. Merkel refuses to talk about the costs of saving the common currency. It's as if we're enjoying the calm before the storm. But Merkel doesn't need any visions for the future. Even Helmut Schmidt, one of the SPD's most admired figures, who was chancellor before Helmut Kohl, would agree. He used to say: "If you have visions go see a doctor."

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