With a new victory expected for her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) in Germany, the only leader of a major European country to have survived the financial crisis looks set to once again earn her nickname of the ‘Queen of Europe’, say analysts.
Chancellor Merkel, who in September scored a stunning national election win, is not a candidate this time around, but her face is everywhere in the streets of Germany, gently smiling from posters with the slogan ‘Successful Together in Europe’.
The CDU posters show popular Merkel rather than Luxembourg’s former prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is the conservatives’ top candidate for the presidency of the European Commission but unknown to large parts of the public here.
Polls show that in the race for the Commission presidency, Germans prefer Juncker’s rival Martin Schulz, a countryman from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) – a partner in Merkel’s coalition government.
However when it comes to sending legislators to the European parliament, Merkel’s CDU has a yawning lead over the SPD of about 38 to 27 percent.
This is similar to September’s national election outcome, which ended with the two big parties forming a left-right "grand coalition" government
With a population of over 80 million people, Germany sends 96 lawmakers to the European parliament, the largest of any other member of the 28-nation bloc.
German economy humming
The CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU may lose some support on their right fringe to new eurosceptic party the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which will likely win about seven percent, said Jens Walther, a political scientist at Duesseldorf University.
Though worrying for mainstream parties, this doesn’t compare to the larger gains expected for eurosceptic and anti-immigrant parties in Austria, the Netherlands, Britain and France, where the far-right National Front is looking at big wins.
"From a European perspective," the expected score in Germany for Merkel’s conservatives would be "an extraordinarily good result", said Walther.
"(German) support for Merkel’s leadership and her defence of German interests in the euro crisis continues," agreed Julian Rappold, an expert on European politics at the German Council on Foreign Relations think tank.
Germany’s export-driven economy is humming and continues to outperform those of its neighbours.
And after eight years in power, Merkel has also delivered some social relief, from a national minimum wage to pension gifts, steps demanded by her SPD governing partners of convenience, while much of the rest of Europe continues to chafe under tough austerity policies.
While these policies, promoted by the European Commission of outgoing chief Jose Manuel Barroso, are unpopular and will penalise the conservatives in many countries, the Social Democrats are unlikely to benefit for lack of a clearly articulated alternative vision.
As a result, the right and left will govern side by side at the European level, amid rising euroscepticism and with protracted negotiations expected to appoint the successor to Barroso.
‘People vote, Merkel decides’
If the new president of the commission is a conservative, Juncker or someone else, Merkel "will maintain or increase her influence", said Rappold.
If it is Schulz or another Social Democrat, "he must somehow work with the commissioners from the other parties", said Rappold, who added that he does not foresee any "fundamental change" in policy.
He also predicted that French President Francois Hollande will not rebalance Merkel’s European policy as he promised after his election in 2012.
"France is not doing well economically" and "is occupied with itself", said Rappold.
Walther also highlighted the relative convergence of views between the conservatives and socialists – to limit public debt and boost competitiveness while promoting some measures for growth, including investment in infrastructure and education.
The Franco-German couple recently appeared "very harmonious" but "I believe it is Hollande who made the biggest step. I do not think Merkel has changed a lot", added the political scientist from Duesseldorf.
A recent cartoon in Berlin’s centre-left Tagesspiegel daily jokingly said of Merkel: "I decide what’s for dinner. The voters choose who waits the table."
Daniel Aronssohn / AFP / Expatica