15 big decisions that can’t be made until Angela Merkel is re-elected

Everybody’s looking forward to the end.
Everybody’s looking forward to the end.
Image: Reuters/Pete Souza
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Germans go to the polls on Sunday, Sept. 22. For months, if not years, every significant economic event in Europe has been tied to the country’s looming federal election in some way.

Because Germany is Europe’s largest country and the euro zone’s key paymaster, this is not unreasonable. But seeing every twist and turn in Europe’s debt crisis, and much else besides, through a German political lens can be a stretch.

Here’s a list of all the unfinished business politicians, business leaders, analysts and just about everyone else have pinned on the upcoming election. When Germany—and Europe—wakes up to a new Bundestag on Monday, will all these things suddenly change?

How to follow the election on Sunday

So how best does the novice German-politics watcher follow the circus? It’s worth getting a sense of Germany’s arcane voting system and its constellation of political parties. This makes sifting through the flurry of coverage by local outlets, international publications and other interested institutions much easier.

Very simply, a coalition needs at least 45% of the vote to form a government. Keep this in mind when watching the latest polls, or while playing with the various interactive tools that mix and match the parties into hypothetical coalitions based on likely voting outcomes.

The main political parties have official colors, which makes it (marginally) easier to follow the permutations of potential partnerships. The current government, led by Angela Merkel, is a right-leaning black-yellow coalition of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (black, in partnership with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union), and the Free Democratic Party (yellow).

The main challenger is a block comprised of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (red) and The Greens (green, of course). The Left Party (also red, or sometimes a darker red/maroon to distinguish it from the SDP) is sometimes considered the partner that could push a red-green coalition into government, but the party’s communist roots make other parties wary of associating with it.

If neither of the right- or left-leaning coalitions garner enough of the vote to form a government, the likely outcome is a black-red “grand coalition” with Merkel at the helm, as was the case after the 2005 election, when she first became chancellor.