The main thing is not what it seems. The main thing is not which coalition will eventually emerge behind which chancellor, but the scale and the promise of the changes that Sunday’s election results alone herald.

Although one of Merkel’s two possible successors was her finance minister and the other was her own candidate, there will be no political continuity, but rather the end of a long, overly cautious and immobile moment in German history. This is the first of the turning points that are beginning to take shape, because Angela Merkel’s exit from the stage marks the end of the period of unification of East and West Germany; because Olaf Scholz, the social democrat, or Armin Laschet, the Christian democrat, will inevitably want to make their mark by distancing themselves from the sixteen years of power of the outgoing chancellor; because the foundations of a three-party coalition will now have to be defined, with which the first generation not to have grown under the Cold War will take over the reins; and because all this will create a pull factor from which the political landscape will emerge profoundly changed.

The Union’s leading economic power will soon no longer be the same, and it is on the issue of European Defence that the Germany of tomorrow will differ most from the Germany of yesterday. The Greens are in favour of a Common Defence and a political affirmation of the Union on the international scene. The Liberals are also in favour of this, and both the Christian Democrat and Social Democrat candidates have quietly but clearly declared themselves in favour of this development.

Almost three quarters of a century after the Nazi defeat, Germany is emerging from its post-war period, discovering the uncertainties of the American umbrella and thus moving away from its pacifism, from its own fear of itself and from its full-blown Atlanticism. Its view of the world has already moved considerably closer to that of France and will continue to do so. Post-Merkel Germany will be open to real progress on European Defence. This can already be felt in the European Parliament and, whatever the next German coalition, it will imply two other important developments.

Because a Common Defence requires the development of a Common Foreign Policy, common research and arms industries, Germany will also be open to the idea of European industrial policies and the affirmation of European champions in the civilian and military branches. In other words, the European concept of competition, which was totally overtaken by the technological emergence of China and has by now become a paralysing force, will evolve at the same time as the Union will enter the third phase of the construction of its unity – that of political union, after the common market and the single currency.

This will not happen overnight. It will take several decades, two at least. It will even require crises that are all the more perilous because the 27 will deal here with “regal domains” and with the most decisive issues, but with these German elections, the whole of Europe is leaving the post-war era to enter a century defined by the rise in power of China and the refocusing of the United States on the Pacific. Not only is this change in the German situation much more profound than we have yet to see, but it is from 26 September 2021, the end of the Merkel era, that we will undoubtedly date the uncertain and difficult beginning of the political era of the Union.

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