WINNING STREAK A Fine Sunday for Merkel

Defeat for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in France and victory for Angela Merkel’s party in a key regional election has bolstered the chancellor’s position in Europe.
"Mutti" is all smiles. Picture source: Reuters.

The stars seem to be aligning for Angela Merkel after a rough start to Europe’s blockbluster election year. In the course of a single Sunday evening, the chancellor avoided disaster both at home and next door.

In France, the defeat of far-right populist Marine Le Pen bodes well for Ms. Merkel’s policy on Europe. The chancellor made clear that Emmanuel Macron, the victorious independent centrist, is a partner she can work with to address Europe’s political and economic crises.

“I don’t have the slightest doubt that we will work well together,” Ms. Merkel told a press conference in Berlin on Monday. Indeed, the German chancellor was one of the first leaders that Mr. Macron spoke with after his victory, and he reportedly plans to make a trip to Berlin soon.

The chancellor promised to support Mr. Macron’s reform agenda. France’s new president wants to tackle high unemployment and anemic growth in the euro zone’s second-largest economy through labor market reforms. But Ms. Merkel also indicated that Berlin would stick to its insistence on budget discipline, a demand that vexed outgoing President Francois Hollande.

Political hype aside, results are what matter most and Ms. Merkel has won 2 out of 2 in Germany's election season.

“I would like to help reduce unemployment in France,” Ms. Merkel said. “I believe the question of jobs is about much more than the money available for public investments,” she added.

Ms. Merkel’s ability to help France, of course, depends on whether or not she secures a fourth term as chancellor in Germany’s federal elections on September 24.

Earlier in the year, things did not look good for Ms. Merkel. Her popularity had taken a hit in the wake of the refugee crisis, and her center-left challenger Martin Schulz stole the show with a charisma that breathed new life in the the Social Democratic Party, or SPD.

Political hype aside, results are what matter most and Ms. Merkel has won 2 out of 2 in Germany's election season. Her center-right Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, scored a surprise victory over the governing Social Democrats in Germany’s northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein on Sunday. The win came just over a month after the CDU won a poll in the state of Saarland.

Ms. Merkel's decision to campaign in Schleswig-Holstein  for the CDU’s top candidate, Daniel Günther, paid off: “The effort was worth it because the situation was anything but easy in the beginning. We succeeded - the CDU is clearly the strongest power,” the chancellor said.

Ms. Merkel’s CDU now has momentum as Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, prepares to vote this weekend in a key bellwether for federal elections in September. Currently, the CDU leads the SPD nationwide by as much as eight points depending on the poll. Ms. Merkel appears to have blunted the momentum of her challenger Mr. Schulz - for now anyways.

Spencer Kimball is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: [email protected].