“Not until after the German elections” became a very familiar refrain during the darkest hours of the euro crisis in 2012. Sometimes it meant that Greece could not be expelled from the single currency until then. More frequently, it implied that Germany would not be ready to make larger fiscal transfers to the deficit economies until Angela Merkel was safely installed in the Chancellery for four more years. There is still some optimism in eurozone political circles, and even in the financial markets, that the reform process, painfully slow even when the single currency looked like breaking up, will now accelerate.
In a week’s time, the polls will be closed, and Mrs Merkel will probably be embarking on her third and likely final term as Europe’s de facto leader. Like a second term American President, she might become hamstrung by her lame duck status. Alternatively, freed from the shackles of electoral politics, she might strike out in a bolder direction, driving banking union, fiscal union and structural reform towards the finishing line.