FOR so long the last man standing in Europe, Germany has suddenly become its Sleeping Beauty. Several Princes Charming are gathered around the bed, desperate to rouse the princess from her slumber. Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, urges Germany to wake up for the sake of Europe. Brussels anxiously watches the princess’s repose. Even Alexis Tsipras, who as Greece’s prime minister is more used to taking instructions from Berlin than giving them, has been whispering into her ear.
Europeans complain about the results of German leadership when they receive it, but do not much like its absence. In 2011 Radek Sikorski, then Polish foreign minister, declared himself less fearful of German power than German inaction. Today, as Germany clumsily grapples with the result of its inconclusive election in September, much of Europe finds itself in a similar spot.
It is all so frustrating. When France elected an avowedly reformist president in May, Germany seemed to have found the partner it had long claimed to seek. Two days after Germany’s election Mr Macron, who barely blinks without first considering the reaction in Berlin, delivered an ambitious speech on European reform calibrated not to antagonise Angela Merkel’s government. Some Germans are wringing their hands that he still awaits an answer. “France is ready for a European revolution and it is Germany that is pulling the brakes,” Martin Schulz, leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SDP), told Der Spiegel, a weekly.
But Mrs Merkel cuts a diminished figure these days. Leading her Christian Democrats (CDU) to their worst election result since 1949 was the first wound. The second came when Christian Lindner, pugnacious leader of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), blew up her bid to form a “Jamaica” coalition with his party and the Greens. Soon afterwards the German agriculture minister went rogue in Brussels, voting against a European Union weedkiller ban without first checking with his colleagues in Berlin. Mrs Merkel is not to blame for all this, but it contributes to a sense that the chancellor is increasingly at the mercy of events.
Optimists, inside and outside Germany, say a government without the FDP could be a blessing in disguise, even if it will take a while to build. The puritanical Mr Lindner once wanted to abolish…