German Elections 2013: Here's What You Need to Know

As CNBC noted, German voters this Sunday will either re-elect Angela Merkel as chancellor or usher in a new one, Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck. According to the latest polls, Merkel — the leader of the conservative Christian Democrats — should cruise to an easy re-election. She is expected to receive 38% of the votes, thereby defeating her rival by 10 points. The Green Party currently trails with 8% of the German vote.

Observers note that this is an especially important continental election. As The Independent wrote, the often fiery conservative seems “destined to reinforce her role as Europe’s most powerful leader and allow her to eclipse Margaret Thatcher as the EU’s longest-serving female head of government.” 

Is her re-election such a good thing, however? While many people in Germany lionize the two-term chancellor, many Europeans outside the thriving state detest her policies, which they find to be intrusive and profoundly counter-productive.

Most residents in Greece certainly loathe Merkel’s policies. On October 9, 2012, NPR explored the mass confusion partly caused by Merkel in the tiny Eastern European state. Debt-ridden Greece was on the verge of bankruptcy.  More prosperous European nations — led by Merkel’s Germany — generously offered bailout money to the struggling country. However, this “generous” offer came with a steep price: austerity. To receive the bailout funds, the Greek government had to make massive, painful budget cuts. Is austerity working in Greece? Many observers insist that it is not. The bailout was first administered in May 2010.  Since its implementation, conditions there have only worsened in many ways. According to the May 29 edition of The European, unemployment among young Greeks stands at a dismal 64%, and 25% percent of the citizens complain that they are not making enough money to pay for adequate amounts of food.  Early on, austerity was viewed as Greece’s last great hope. Now, austerity is becoming reviled the world over.

Germany, of course, is not the only bailout nation in Europe. Nevertheless, the Greeks direct most of their rage against Germany and its current leader. This derision stems from a variety of reasons. For one, Germany — as the wealthiest nation in Europe — is the leading contributor to the fund. Thus, it appears to lead the bailout nations, and conservative Merkel appears to symbolize austerity as a whole.

One other very important reason is WWII.  During this war, Germany brutalized Greece, and bad memories die hard. To many Greeks, German meddling in their economic affairs equates with imperialism, and because the heavy-handed Merkel leads Germany, she effectively represents this new imperialism. 

Austerity, then, may be bad, if not disastrous, economic policy. However, Merkel’s likely re-election suggests that austerity and hard-right conservatism are still powerful forces in Europe. To conservatives, including American ones, all that is great news. To most Greeks, such news is devastating.

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Jonathan Maxwell

Jonathan Maxwell is a Georgia-based writer. He holds an MA in English from Jacksonville State University in Alabama, along with a BA in English and a psychology minor from Berry College in Rome, Georgia. He is the author of two books.

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