Germany s current political limbo is not a tragedy for Germany. Its stale democracy could use a good shaking up, which is exactly what s been happening since the national vote in September. Germans are once again talking politics and hashing out political differences.
The same is not true for the workings of the European Union, which is on the cusp of a vital overhaul at a decisive, precarious moment in its existence. The EU s reform process has ground to a virtual halt with Germany sidelined.
"There s terrible worry here in Brussels that the whole European project is unraveling," Giles Merritt, publisher of the Brussels-based periodical Europe s World, told CNN. "There s the feeling that the EU is at sea and our big friend in Central Europe is no longer there for us. The quicker there s a resolution, the better everyone here will feel."
Merkel s party to meet with SPD in bid to break Germany s deadlock
Yet, in Berlin, there s still no government in sight. Exploratory talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) might not start before January. And if these negotiations falter -- as did earlier talks between CDU/CSU, Greens, and the pro-business Free Democrats -- new elections could be set for the spring. A government might not be in place until summer.
Stable, affluent Germany can cope with a little tumult in its politics. But for the hobbled EU this long, unanticipated stretch of uncertainty is a calamity. The EU is mired in its gravest crisis since its founding, shaken by Brexit, the stubborn eurozone crisis, lack of unity, and the rise of a far right in its midst.
Donald Trump s erratic international policies have dramatically underscored the need for the Europeans to get their act together on security and foreign affairs.
This is why the EU needs and expects a strong Germany -- now more than ever. Neighboring nations may gripe about Germany s dominance in today s EU, but apparently the only thing worse is Berlin not being there at all. The EU is stuck in a holding pattern as long as the German crisis persists.
Indeed, Germany s EU partners had been counting on Merkel emerging from the autumn vote as powerful as ever, with a fresh four-year mandate and her legacy on the line.
From a position of strength she d work with France s new President, Emmanuel Macron, restarting the France-German motor that propelled the EU in the Cold War decades. Macron has already been waiting -- less than patiently -- for nearly half a year for Merkel to join him.
The self-confident French President believes he has a strategy for rescuing a union grappling with questions on security, migration, debt and institutional reform. Among his plans are a European asylum agency and border police, as well as a eurozone finance minister responsible to the European Parliament.
Brexit and Trump s presidency, he had expected, would catalyze the reform process -- and indeed polls show Europeans up for a more assertive EU.
The revamping of the eurozone -- reforms turning it into a full-fledged, integrated monetary union -- are perhaps the highest priority. Macron wants to bind the eurozone nations more closely together with a joint budget, a genuine banking union and a beefed up eurozone emergency fund.
These formidable ideas belong to the French President and are endorsed in many EU capitals. Yet they require the aid of powerful Germany, the EU s economic behemoth with the most votes in EU institutions, to make them a reality.
Six months of talks on tightening the currency bloc were scheduled to begin in Brussels in December, culminating in June 2018 with concrete proposals. Although this would have entailed wrenching compromises on both the German and French sides, the two leaders share chemistry and could have pulled it off.
What next for Germany as Merkel myth implodes?
But this deadline is now almost certainly out of reach, some observers wondering if Merkel will even survive the crisis -- the worst-case scenario.
The growing frustration is increasingly evident in European media and statements from EU politicos. The Netherlands s foreign minister charged that the stalled process of forming a new German government was "bad news for Europe."
Germany s "ruining our entire presidency," carped an EU diplomat from Estonia, which currently holds the rotating presidency. "It s not in our interests that the process freezes up," Macron said in Paris.
This is why cries are growing louder from EU partner countries for Germany s two biggest parties to get a new grand coalition up and running asap. On November 24, Denmark s daily Politiken argued that: "Only the SPD together with Angela Merkel can guarantee the necessary political stability. That may be scary for the SPD, which has just experienced a debacle at the ballot box. But the alternative is even scarier. Not just for the EU, but for Germany, too."
Merkel s political cachet has already been damaged by her party s mediocre election result in September and the collapse of the four-way coalition talks. Now Berlin is incapacitated when the EU is poised to begin its biggest overhaul in decades. Every week it is paralyzed, the more clout slips away from Germany, and the less likely are crucial EU reforms in these times of crisis.