German election 2009

The colourful posters on Hamburg’s streets tell the story of Germany’s 2009 election.  “We’re electing the chancellor” says the slogan of the Christian Democrats, next to a reassuringly maternal image of Angela Merkel. 

It is at once an idiotically simple but cleverly conceived slogan.  Because Merkel is the incumbent, it communicates the subliminal message to voters that her rivals, and the rivals to the CDU, are smaller in stature.  In particular, it diminishes the Social Democrats, the CDU’s coalition partner.  All the polls show that voters think Merkel makes a better chancellor than Frank-Walter Steinmeier, her SPD foreign minister and challenger, ever would.  Merkel is the CDU’s trump card. 

I’m in Hamburg today wondering what would happen if next Sunday’s German election were to produce not some messy, inconclusive result, but a clear-cut victory for one party or the other in the ruling Christian Democrat-Social Democrat grand coalition.  What might this mean for the allocation of top jobs in the European Union?

Of course, unless the opinion polls are wildly wrong, it is inconceivable that the Social Democrats will emerge as the largest party in the Bundestag.  The post-reunification fissures of the German left seem to have doomed the SPD to second place in perpetuity behind the Christian Democrats.  But if the inconceivable were to happen, then Angela Merkel would no longer be chancellor and would presumably be looking for a new challenge and a new job.