Mixed reactions in Europe to election deadlock
19 September 2005
BERLIN – There was muted concern in European capitals Monday at the prospect of drawn-out horsetrading over a new governing coalition in Germany.
In Britain it has long been clear that the Labour government, and Prime Minister Tony Blair personally, have fallen out of love with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Germany’s Social Democrats.
The Times reported that the failure of Christian Democrat candidate Angela Merkel to win an outright majority had been greeted with disappointment by British government ministers.
Blair had privately hoped that Merkel would win and help revive his agenda for free-market reforms across the European Union. These hopes had now been dashed, the Times said.
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy congratulated Merkel on what he termed her “victory”, expressing the hope that she and the Christian Democrats would form a “solid coalition”.
Sarkozy, chairman of the conservative UMP, said the German electorate had confirmed “that the ideas and values that we share are the right ones”.
Catherine Colonna, the minister responsible for Europe in the French government, said the special relationship between France and Germany would remain “firm, irrespective of the future government in Berlin”.
The comments reflected how Schroeder has cultivated relations with President Jacques Chirac, with both leaders distancing themselves from Washington, particularly over Iraq.
Under Merkel as chancellor, Germany would steer a course more in line with that of the United States.
Colonna said that while a majority of Germans had backed reform, some of the liberalizing ideas put forward by the Christian Democrats had “perhaps raised fears among the electorate”.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he hoped for a “stable government” in Germany.
Germany’s active participation in E.U. affairs was needed to ensure progress on key issues, including agreement on a new long-term budget, Barroso’s spokeswoman Francoise Le Bail said.
Le Bail said a message of congratulation would be sent only once it had become clear who the new German chancellor would be.
In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling House of Freedoms coalition drew comfort from the late swing in favour of the ruling party in Germany.
While Berlusconi did not comment, party sources said the German result showed the House of Freedoms could still win the 2006 vote, despite discontent over the poor state of the Italian economy.
Romano Prodi, head of the centre-left opposition Unione coalition, said the “unexpected result” suggested German voters were concerned that economic reform might threaten the welfare system.
“There are times when the welfare system may appear as an impediment to growth. Yet the drive for growth should always bear in mind the fact that people also need security,” said Prodi, whose party is leading Berlusconi’s in the polls.
In Vienna, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel’s conservative People’s Party noted the German “red-green” coalition had been voted out.
Schuessel expressed “hearty congratulations” to Merkel and said he expected her to be given a mandate to form a government.
But the opposition Social Democrats said the German result was “a rejection of a neo-liberal change”.
Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson said he expected Schroeder to stay in power, despite a result giving a small majority to Merkel.
“Despite the harsh criticism of Schroeder and his policies, the voters have again swung to the left,” the Social Democrat said.
But he voiced the fears of many European leaders in acknowledging that German politics was on course for “some kind of stalemate”.
In Denmark, opposition leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt said Schroeder was a “fantastic election fighter” noting his late surge in the campaign.
In Ankara, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the result as a “surprise”, but also as “a positive outcome” for Turkey’s application to join the E.U..
He criticised the campaign run by Merkel’s Christian Democrats, referring her to “negative propaganda” at the expense of Germany’s large Turkish minority and of Turkey itself.
During the campaign, Schroeder steadfastly backed Turkey’s E.U. application, while Merkel made clear that she would offer only a “privileged partnership”.
Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka stressed economic reform. “From our point of view, it is important that Germany boldly undertakes necessary reforms,” he said.
“No matter who becomes chancellor, Poland and Germany will remain neighbours, strategic partners, not only within the European Union, but also world partners, and I don’t believe anything could change in our relations,” Belka said.
Subject: German news, German elections