It was not surprising that the German chancellor Angela Merkel swept to victory in Sunday’s general election. But the victory of the world’s most powerful woman, whose reach extends far beyond Germany’s borders, is remarkable for several reasons.
Not only did her party win the election, but it did so with the best results since Germany’s reunification in 1990.
Mrs Merkel has also managed to successfully chart her country’s course through the worst years of the economic crisis. The financial meltdown was swift and ferocious when it arrived and claimed many political victims. Indeed, of those European leaders who occupied seats of power in 2008, only she and the Swedish prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, remain in office today.
Mrs Merkel, of course, not only survives but thrives. Her focus on domestic interests won her the near universal trust of the population she presides over. Germany’s economy remains in robust health.
As the German newspaper Der Spiegel noted, the nation’s gratitude to Mrs Merkel is reminiscent of the appreciation conferred on Helmet Kohl, her former mentor. As Mr Kohl is credited with reuniting Germany, so Mrs Merkel has been commended for Germany’s fiscal good governance.
In terms of foreign policy, she has emerged as an influential politician in the wider European Union during the bloc’s hardest times – as some of its members experienced political and financial unrest that threatened the fabric of the trading zone itself.
Despite her victory, Mrs Merkel still faces several pressing issues, not the least of which are an ageing population (with an associated pensions and benefits time bomb) and a commitment to making Germany nuclear-free by the end of 2022.
She also has to work out how to govern effectively: she can rule on her own, which will make her next four years in power a lot more challenging, or seek a “grand coalition” with the centre-left Social Democrats, Mrs Merkel’s partners between 2005 and 2009.
The latter option might be preferable for the German public, as well as Europeans at large, who hope that such a partnership will soften the chancellor’s preference for swingeing austerity policies within the EU’s more dysfunctional states.
What can other leaders take away from Mrs Merkel’s startling success? Chiefly, that domestic issues and economic certainty currently matter most to Germany’s voters.