The German elections are over, and Angela Merkel has chalked up a remarkable result – the latest in a series of victories for what Tim Montgomerie has termed the BoreCons. Just as Tony Abbott and Erna Solberg did in Australia and Norway, Merkel pursued a rather dull path through the election, and it has paid off.
The question is, what does the outcome mean for David Cameron’s EU strategy?
Euroscepticism in Germany is certainly on the rise, as the twin polls I reported on last week showed. The new anti-Euro party, the AfD, fell just short of the 5 per cent threshold required to secure Bundestag seats, receiving 4.7 per cent of the vote. Their performance was quite remarkable, nonetheless, given that both main parties increased their vote share and the German electorate are by no means inherently sympathetic to small parties (the liberal FDP, Merkel’s coalition partner, was wiped out on Sunday, for example).
Had the AfD won seats they would have been in a position of some influence in German politics – particularly as they would have held the balance of power over who would form the new Government. In such a circumstance, Merkel may well have been forced to offer concessions to their euroscepticism, such as supporting the right of member states to loosen their relationships with Brussels.
They failed to do so, so she may well feel able to shrug their challenge off and leave Cameron flapping in the wind.
It is hardly unusual for politicians to make sceptical noises at election time and then revert to EU enthusiasm once the inconvenient process of consulting the people is out of the way. As we reported a few weeks ago, while the German Chancellor has some sympathy for a few elements of British eurosceptic opinion, she has put her foot down about the idea of re-opening the EU treaties – a sticking point that would prevent any meaningful or permanent change.
There is the chance that the AfD makes this result a stepping stone, rather than their high water mark. The party is young – it doesn’t even have a head office yet – and it’s feasible that rather than giving up, its supporters could be spurred on instead. If they were to keep their momentum for the 2014 European Elections, for example, then they could still put some pressure on the CDU-CSU.
They might make ground over time through such an approach, but it’s worth remembering it took UKIP 14 years from getting their first MEPs to reach their current insurgent position. An AfD on the rise in 2027 will be little use to any of us. Whether they sink or swim in the long run, they have not made the breakthrough which might have blown the EU negotiations open. The prospects for any meaningful result from the renegotiation are now even bleaker than they were when the policy was first announced.