Germans sleep better, Bismarck once said, when they don’t know how sausages and laws are made. A century and a half later, Angela Merkel seems to be modelling an election campaign on the musings of Germany’s “Iron Chancellor”; the modern day chancellor is avoiding detailed discussion of what she would do with a third term and instead emphasising her personal appeal over policy prescriptions. In five weeks’ time Germans will vote in what has been billed as the most important election of the year in Europe, a continent struggling to emerge from years of financial and economic crisis. Yet there is virtually no debate about the major problems facing Germany – from handling its exit from nuclear energy to addressing an ageing population and articulating a vision for the euro zone.
Differences between the major parties are also hard to identify. Merkel has pushed her Christian Democrats (CDU) so close to the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens on energy, wages and family policy that the parties have become virtually indistinguishable for many voters.
This has given the parliamentary election campaign a surreal feel. There is no doubt that it is finally underway; colourful party posters in the streets and Merkel’s first week of rallies, after her return from an Alpine hiking vacation, attest to that.
But there is no excitement in the air. The opinion polls showing Merkel’s conservatives with a comfortable lead over the SPD have barely budged for months.
As so often happens in Germany, a new word – “Nichtwahlkampf” or non-campaign – has cropped up in the media to describe this troubling state of affairs.