Merkel’s triumph may mean check mate for Cameron’s EU reforms

John Hulsman
WITHOUT doubt, the German election is the critical political contest of the year. Chancellor Angela Merkel has won the most resounding German electoral victory since 1957, coming a mere five seats short of an absolute majority in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house. The decisive re-election of David Cameron’s closest European ally must be good news for his efforts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, mustn’t it?

For in the end, despite the torturous negotiations Cameron will have to engage in to realise his goal of redefining Britain’s relationship with the EU, whether such an outcome is possible comes down to a very simple dynamic. Are the Germans willing to use their pivotal power to lobby and overcome the many continental sceptics of such a deal (the French leap to mind)?

Yet the reality of the election results is not a triumph for Britain’s hopes for renegotiation; it is a calamity. Given Merkel’s center-right CDU party is still well short of a majority in the Bundesrat, Germany’s upper house, she will have to form a coalition government. As only four parties cleared the 5 per cent threshold to be represented in the Bundestag, there are just not that many outcomes that need to be gamed out here; but all of them are dire for Cameron’s European hopes.

A CDU coalition with the Linke Party is a non-starter, given its odious East German communist heritage. A tie-up with the Greens is faintly possible. Tribally, however, the now affluent hippies that dominate the Green movement are not yet emotionally ready to get into bed with their father’s CDU. In any case, as the most euro-federalist of the major parties, a Green coalition would – to put it mildly – certainly not give Cameron the strong support he will need from Berlin.

That leaves the most likely outcome: another Grand Coalition of the CDU and the SPD. For the SPD, there is one area above all where they are unlikely to budge, and that is over their view of Europe. Historically extremely close to their French brethren, the SPD are in favour of a far more integrated Europe than Merkel is comfortable with. While the sensible Chancellor won’t allow much greater integration to happen, part of the price of a coalition deal will quite possibly be the new government following the French line on the Cameron process.

This would certainly be the SPD’s strong preference, as they see Cameron’s efforts at renegotiation as something akin to blasphemy, a stance that if followed by all the member states would decisively pull the EU itself apart. At a minimum, gone is the chance that Merkel would be able – given the nature of either a Green or a SPD coalition – to actively serve as the key powerful ally supporting Cameron’s efforts.

So lurking beneath the waves of election analysis, Cameron’s European gambit may just have been decisively check mated.

Dr John C Hulsman is president and co-founder of John C Hulsman Enterprises (, a political risk consultancy. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Ethical Realism, The Godfather Doctrine, and Lawrence of Arabia, To Begin the World Over Again.