- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Germany’s disappointing elections Sunday left it with no clear governing party and a cloud of uncertainty over its political and economic future. But the news wasn’t entirely bad: The elections appear to signal an end for America-bashing as a winning political strategy in Germany. The type of fear-mongering German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder rode to victory in 2002 is now confirmed to be yielding significantly diminishing returns these days. Meanwhile, the chancellorship of its chief practitioner appears to be dead in the water.

In 2002, Mr. Schroeder and his Social Democrats turned the election into a referendum on the Iraq war, shrewdly deflecting criticism of his lackluster economic stewardship and relying on America-bashing to obscure issues. Mr. Schroeder “opened the floodgates for anti-American tones,” as his opponent, Christian Democrat Edmund Stoiber, put it after the election, and created the worst crisis in U.S.-German relations since World War II. The German public apparently bought it, and Mr. Schroeder coasted to a resounding victory atop a 38.5 percent Social Democratic take that anchored a Red-Green coalition government. The conservative Christian Democrats registered just 29.5 percent of the vote.

This time, however, Mr. Schroeder’s gambit didn’t work. His party’s take slipped to 34.3 percent, a figure which under Germany’s complicated electoral rules means a likely end for Mr. Schroeder’s chancellorship. The Christian Democrats under Mrs. Merkel, with 35.2 percent of the vote, now begin negotiations to form the new coalition government.

Mrs. Merkel’s performance was a disappointment in light of predictions that the Christian Democrats would take 40 percent or more of the vote. The CDU cannot form the conservative coalition government it envisioned with the free-market Free Democrats, who took a record 10 percent of the vote. But it surely means the era of Social Democratic ascendancy under Mr. Schroeder is over. Mr. Schroeder disagrees for the time being, telling supporters over the weekend that the close vote demonstrated a “mandate” to continue his chancellorship. The next few weeks will give the lie to such notions.

The “grand coalition” government now being discussed between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats is likely to be disappointing; it would seem unlikely such a coalition could act boldly to tackle the country’s 11.4 percent unemployment rate, its low economic growth and its worsening welfare deficit. But at the very least, it will not fall prey to the type of malodorous America-bashing Mr. Schroeder rode to victory in 2002, and for that we can be thankful.

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