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Germany: an election at the heart of Europe

The German general elections on 24th September are more important than they appear. Not because of their domestic impact. Angela Merkel should win and find enough potential partners on the political scale with whom to form a coalition.

But Germany is also facing new challenges and German policy has to rise to these, and yet strangely, they have been absent from the electoral campaign. The latter has been relatively consensual, barely disturbed by a weak challenge coming from the far right.

The Union's most important country was sorely tested in the second half of the 20th century: by democratic, political, economic reconstruction after the Nazi disaster, then by reunification in 1990 there were all incredible times of upheaval at country level. The difficulties have been overcome successfully but not easily and at a cost. Unique political stability amongst the major democracies has enabled this, illustrating the Germans' efforts to prevent brutal change, unlike in many of the country's neighbours, which have been promoted over time. The Germans like stability, continuity and consensus - and Angela Merkel has offered them these things, enabling them to recover true serenity and unquestionable economic dynamism.

But today Germany faces changes coming from elsewhere. Geopolitical turmoil is frustrating its traditional attraction to the East as well as its attachment to its alliance with the USA. Neither Putin nor Trump are to the German taste. A brutal change has taken place. In the Union, Brexit leaves it with no other choice but Franco-German solidarity. The latter is strong but surrounded by deep and old economic and financial debates. Terrorism, the influx of refugees and immigration are disturbing a deeply peaceful nation, which hesitates about publicly mentioning Islamic excesses, the use of force in international relations, challenging multilateralism, nationalism and other phenomenon now ongoing. German society shies from these debates and finds it hard to address them. At domestic level certainties that have gone unchallenged to date are now collapsing. Industry is not necessarily exemplary, including the car industry, the aging population will be a problem, and open immigration to compensate for this is not necessarily without its problems. The German model, like the others, has to adapt on a permanent basis and this is not an easy task. Finally, Europe is witnessing the entrance of a new generation of leaders, including the French President who embody the desire for reform.

The new German government will therefore have a more complicated agenda ahead than it did previously. It will not be able to continue to just respond to events. And in spite of some developments in its approach to the environment, immigration, defence and diplomacy it will have to go further, under the pressure of its determined partners and possibly of new domestic demand.

Will Angela Merkel be able to take 180° turns, as she did with nuclear power, immigration, defence and finally solidarity toward the euro? The task will not be a simple one in a country in which nothing is liked less than change, where certainty and confidence in the rules - even if they are outmoded - remain the national credo. The time is right for agility, adaptation and imagination.

It is in the European arena that we shall rapidly find the answer. For Europe, changing nothing is now no longer an option. Inventiveness, originality and audacity is what is required to define necessary European progress to restore trust between Member States and to build a Europe that acknowledges its place in the world. As for the French it seems that this is the case; the German response and especially its action at Europe level will come under careful scrutiny by partners that are thirsty for change. Reconciling the North and the South, without forgetting the East and the West - whilst asserting themselves in the international arena, Europeans must settle a complicated equation. At the heart of Europe, we now expect a great deal of a new Germany policy.