If you have attended a transatlantic conference in the past year — on any subject — you’ve no doubt encountered someone who opened his or her prepared remarks with, “Once we get through the German election, Merkel will [fill in the blank].” The second half of the sentence varies. I’ve heard that she will join forces with French President Emmanuel Macron and take the European Union to new heights. I’ve heard she will develop a more assertive and effective stance towards U.S. President Donald Trump. I’ve also heard she will solve climate change, save the Iran nuclear deal, and lead the two sides of the Atlantic towards a new policy on Russia. Admittedly, I’ve used that construct myself on more than one occasion. Whatever the ambition, the general sentiment has been the same: Merkel is and will continue to be the de facto leader of Europe, and she stands to do great things during her fourth term.
Not so fast.
Yes, Merkel will serve a fourth term in office. So her many fans on both sides of the Atlantic can celebrate. But Merkel herself isn’t exactly celebrating. “We expected a better result,” she said on Sunday night. The truth is that her own alliance, the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union, along with the Social Democrats (her party’s coalition partner in recent years), took a beating. In fact, the Social Democrats did so poorly — the party’s worst outcome since the late 1940s — it announced that it would move to the opposition and not join another grand coalition.
Read the full op-ed in Foreign Policy.