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Europe will pay a high price for Germany’s paralysis

Merkel fails to form coalition government

Paul Hockenos is the author of « Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, the Wall and the Birth of the New Berlin. » This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate election results. The opinion in this article belong to the author.

Germany’s current political limbo is not a tragedy for Germany. Its stale democracy could use a good shaking up, which is exactly what’s been happening since the national vote in September. Germans are once again talking politics and hashing out political differences.

The same is not true for the workings of the European Union, which is on the cusp of a vital overhaul at a decisive, precarious moment in its existence. The EU’s reform process has ground to a virtual halt with Germany sidelined.
« There’s terrible worry here in Brussels that the whole European project is unraveling, » Giles Merritt, publisher of the Brussels-based periodical Europe’s World, told CNN. « There’s the feeling that the EU is at sea and our big friend in Central Europe is no longer there for us. The quicker there’s a resolution, the better everyone here will feel. »
Yet, in Berlin, there’s still no government in sight. Exploratory talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) might not start before January. And if these negotiations falter — as did earlier talks between CDU/CSU, Greens, and the pro-business Free Democrats — new elections could be set for the spring. A government might not be in place until summer.
Stable, affluent Germany can cope with a little tumult in its politics. But for the hobbled EU this long, unanticipated stretch of uncertainty is a calamity. The EU is mired in its gravest crisis since its founding, shaken by Brexit, the stubborn eurozone crisis, lack of unity, and the rise of a far right in its midst.
Donald Trump’s erratic international policies have dramatically underscored the need for the Europeans to get their act together on security and foreign affairs.
This is why the EU needs and expects a strong Germany — now more than ever. Neighboring nations may gripe about Germany’s dominance in today’s EU, but apparently the only thing worse is Berlin not being there at all. The EU is stuck in a holding pattern as long as the German crisis persists.
Indeed, Germany’s EU partners had been counting on Merkel emerging from the autumn vote as powerful as ever, with a fresh four-year mandate and her legacy on the line.

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