Merkel aims to win at home as Europe is cast adrift

Merkel aims to win at home as Europe is cast adrift
Dr Angela Merkel.

The people of Germany have made up their minds. With just under a month to go before their general election, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are well ahead in the polls. And no other living German politician is as popular as Dr Merkel.

The electoral campaign has been so boring that the only whiff of excitement came when Dr Merkel's husband recently admitted that the Chancellor's cooking skills are far from perfect. Apparently she's not generous with the toppings on her streuselkuchen, a traditional German crumb cake.

Yet despite this outward image of domestic calm and predictability, the German elections are far from predictable.

The outcome is being watched with anticipation in Europe and the United States as those who will govern Europe's biggest economy and the policy choices they make over the next few years will not only determine the shape of the European continent but also decisively affect the Americans who, notwithstanding their pivot to Asia, still need a strong European partner to get things done.

Seldom before has a national election campaign been so uneventful and yet so globally important.

Germany's voters are still divided over the wisdom of offering hundreds of billions of euros in credit guarantees to other European nations which faced bankruptcy. Some believe this was a terrible waste of money, while others found it essential to avert the worst economic disaster since the 1930s Depression. Yet few Germans grasp the conclusion obvious to any outside observer: that by becoming Europe's paymaster, Germany has also transformed into Europe's top decision-maker.

One explanation for this peculiar German amnesia is the way Europe's financial crisis is seen in Germany. Not as a systemic problem but as a morality play between work-shy Greeks or Portuguese and hard-working Germans, who supposedly toil from morning to night, saving every cent but suddenly told at gunpoint to surrender their hard-earned piggybanks.

Like all myths, this one contains a grain of truth. Yet it obscures some very important realities, including the fact that far from being fleeced for cash, Germany is, at least for the moment, a huge net beneficiary of Europe's financial crisis.

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