Chancellor Merkel’s Shellacking
Even after pandering to voters’ fears about nuclear power, the euro and NATO operations in Libya, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany got a shellacking in her Christian Democratic party’s traditional bastion of Baden-Württemberg. We hope Mrs. Merkel, whose term runs until 2013, draws the right lessons and hews more closely to her own principles and Germany’s larger interests.
Sunday’s election took place in the shadow of Japan’s unfolding nuclear power-plant disaster. The future of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors (four of which are in Baden-Württemberg) was the biggest issue, and the antinuclear Green Party was the biggest winner.
Mrs. Merkel was vulnerable after she pushed through a law extending the legal life of Germany’s reactors from 30 years to more than 40. Then, just ahead of the election, she ordered an immediate 90-day shutdown of the seven reactors built before 1980. It was the right thing to do, but it cast doubt on the earlier extension and left voters wondering what she would do when the 90 days ran out.
Mrs. Merkel’s flailing efforts to have it both ways on Europe’s endangered currency also left voters wondering where she really stood. She portrayed her decision to stretch out Germany’s contributions and her demands for growth-killing austerity as shielding German taxpayers from the extravagance of slothful European neighbors. Voters punished her for pledging any bailout money at all. Prolonging the crisis and impeding growth in the euro-zone will hurt German banks and exporters.
Mrs. Merkel has also been disappointing on Libya. Although NATO has long been the linchpin of Germany’s defense plans, she ostentatiously removed German ships in the Mediterranean from NATO command to keep them clear of operations in Libya. Germany also abstained in the United Nations Security Council’s vote authorizing action, joining Russia, China, Brazil and India.
Most of Mrs. Merkel’s postwar predecessors rightly believed that Germany’s economic prosperity was firmly tied to the European Union and its military security tied to NATO. It is becoming increasingly hard to figure out what Mrs. Merkel believes.