IT MATTERS well beyond Europe that Germany's dependable leader Angela Merkel retains a strong hand to steer the European confederal project.
Germany is very much the rock upon which European federalism will rest. To accomplish her mission she will need an unequivocal mandate to push Germany's tough prescriptions in European Union (EU) councils, besides maintaining German competitiveness in export markets.
Austerity measures in the euro zone are not popular or even widely accepted as correct, but she is listened to. The single currency is still holding and the EU continues to expand. This is a credit to Teutonic doggedness.
Dr Merkel's party, the Christian Democrats, won big in the federal elections but the coalition-building that the proportional electoral system almost always guarantees could enfeeble her if parties which disagree with her ideas of self-reliance at home and abroad get into government. Any keen legislative fights in the Bundestag she might face over domestic tax and labour reforms and bailouts for EU spendthrifts can damage her standing.
Germans who trust her would wish her party had won a few more seats to go it alone. Likewise, Germany's many friends.
Its economic partners in Asia and North America are, like a good many Europeans, in two minds about the wisdom of the EU model and the common currency. How could a pastiche of grand old monarchies, each with a history recalled with great pride, willingly have their national character and sovereignty atomised for a construct of indeterminate purpose?
But a break-up of the union, monetary or political, will be enormously disruptive to an interconnected global economic system. The effects on trade and financial markets could reverberate for years.
Political union and the single currency having come this far after a string of nationalistic ructions in Britain and southern Europe, respectively, it falls on Germany to hold the idea of pan-Europeanism intact.
Dr Merkel has cemented her role as the head of the European crisis response team to reconcile the euro zone's inherent contradictions. Greece is due for a third bailout package, having been lent a quarter trillion euros already. Portugal is next, and a rescue for Slovenia is pending.
Germany is in the final analysis the principal underwriter and the nerve centre of a unified Europe (although France could dispute that).
There are many who would prefer Germany to take a bolder approach so that the zone's long-drawn crisis can be brought to an end. But without a free hand, Dr Merkel has to proceed with care, heeding German opposition to more bailouts and providing strong, steady stewardship to hold Europe together.
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