More Merkel

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

GERMAN CHANCELLOR Angela Merkel's reelection at the head of a center-right coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats suggests that Germany's voters have responded to the economic crisis with a tentative inclination toward more market-friendly policies. After five years of near-policy deadlock under a conservative-socialist coalition, Europe's largest economy is now likely to see tax, regulation and spending cuts. These could help it become less reliant on exports for growth -- a result consonant with President Obama's call for a re-balancing among the world's major economies.

That's all to the good, though count us among those who do not expect Ms. Merkel to emulate the radical free-market economics of the only other woman to wield so much power for so long in a major European state: Britain's Margaret Thatcher. German voters' preference for a strong government role in the economy has deep roots, and Ms. Merkel is too politically savvy -- or cautious -- to attempt a wholesale restructuring of the "social market" economy.

Ms. Merkel's reelection is also good news in two other important respects: Her coalition is likely to repeal or modify an ill-advised German law that would have shut down the country's 17 nuclear power plants by 2020. Keeping the nuclear plants online will help Germany to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps without subsidizing solar and other alternative energy sources as heavily as it now does. And the German electorate's support for a Merkel-led coalition also permits her to continue the German army's participation in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Ms. Merkel faced a difficult moment in the middle of election season when a senior German officer called in an airstrike that killed many civilians along with Taliban fighters. Her steadfastness in riding out that mini-crisis set an example of leadership.

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