The recent cover of The Economist reads "Europe's new order," and shows a youthful French president in the glaring spotlight--and a German Chancellor Angela Merkel behind him in the dark shadow. Inside, the article titles tell the story: "A dynamic Emmanuel Macron and a diminished Angela Merkel promise a new balance in Europe," "President Emmanuel Macron's reform plans represent a turning point for his country," "A weakened Angela Merkel enters the last chapter of her chancellorship," and "One plodding, one striding, the leaders of Germany and France will change the EU."
Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old financier and former economic minister, was elected President of France in May 2017 with 66.1 percent of the vote over far-right challenger Marine Le Pen's 33.9 percent. He has been celebrated as "Europe's savior" at a time when the European Union is shaken by Brexit, the challenge of President Trump and his "America first" rhetoric, and the right-wing populists on the European continent increasing their political clout.
By contrast, after twelve years as chancellor--eight of them governing with the pro-Europe, center-left Social Democrats as partners--Merkel won a fourth term but is severely weakened, especially with respect to support for the ambitious European reform agenda proposed by Macron and called for by Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU president.
On the evening of German national elections in September 2017, Merkel experienced what the tabloid Bild called a "nightmare victory." As the "welcome chancellor" who kept open German borders for more than a million refugees, many of them without any identity papers, she paid a heavy political price on the ballot box.
Her party alliance of the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union, its Bavarian sister party, received 33 percent of the national vote count, down from 41.5 percent four years ago. Merkel's coalition partner, the SPD, dropped from 25.7 percent in 2013 to 20.5 percent, its worst postwar result. Taken together, Merkel's party alliance of CDU/CSU lost sixty-five seats and the SPD lost forty seats.
So it did not come as a surprise that Martin Schulz, the SPD challenger for chancellor, who was a great speaker as president of the European Parliament but never got his act together running against Merkel in the election campaign, announced he would lead the SPD into opposition only minutes after the voting results were announced. Schulz wants to rebuild the party base but he cannot be sure how long Germany's oldest party will allow him to stay on as chairman.
For many it came as a shock that the anti-immigrant, anti-euro, far-right Alternative fiir Deutschland got 12.6 percent of the vote, thus becoming the third-strongest political force in the new Bundestag. AfD emerged, followed by the market-oriented liberal Free Democrat Party with 10.7 percent, Linke with 9.2 percent, and the Greens with 8.9 percent, in the new more-fragmented 709-seat parliament as the third-strongest political grouping.
For Europe, some argue, the German election results may be worse than Trump and Brexit put together. As the vote for Merkel's coalition collapsed, the big winners are the AfD and the FDP, the two most Euroskeptic parties.
Among the parties in a possible new "grand coalition" under Merkel, the FDP campaigned on a strong Euroskeptic platform. They were kicked out of the Bundestag four years ago because they fell under the 5 percent limit. One reason was that they were deeply split on the neverending rescue packages for Greece which they considered were not in line with the EU treaties. But under the highly skilled leadership of their young chairman Christian Lindner, the FDP liberals returned to the Bundestag with a vengeance, gaining eighty seats.
During his long campaign, Lindner made an election...