Angela Merkel has been given a free hand to govern. How will that change things for Europeans? In Paris, the French government is hoping – as it does in the wake of every election on the other side of the Rhine – for a stronger relationship with its German counterpart. Notwithstanding their personal differences, Chancellor Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy will join forces in an attempt to lead the EU. The reasons for this are relatively simple. As former German Minister for Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer has explained to Le Monde, "It is because Europe's institutions are weak. The Commission is very weak, and the Lisbon Treaty has been suspended. Paris and Berlin have to weigh in behind the European project. If they don't, who else will? Britain has decided to keep its distance. Italy is... Italy. Poland is doing well but it still needs to cover some ground. Spain is in a serious state of crisis."

With the probable appointment of Guido Westerwelle as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Germany will likely return to the strategy of the Kohl-Genscher era, when the CDU chancellor and his liberal Foreign Minister were the driving force for European integration and German reunification. However, as Neue Zürcher Zeitung points out, Westerwelle is an advocate of closer ties with Russia, and this could create tensions with other EU member states, especially Eastern European ones.

In Ireland, opponents of the Lisbon Treaty claim it will prompt a fresh wave of economic liberalism, and point to the advent of Germany's coalition between Christian Democrats and FDP's economic liberals in support of this argument. At the same time, the Polish daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna emphasizes that the Chancellor will hardly be able to make Germany the driving economic force in Europe, in view of the fact that "the state coffers are empty."

So what can we expect from Germany? A strategy that is more or less simlar to those adopted by other states. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and in spite of the economic crisis, Germany continues to be a stabilizing force in Europe. However, the recent decision of its Constitutional Court, which passed a law to impose more input from the national parliament on decisions in Brussels, shows that Germany will defend its interests -- even those interests that do not coincide with those of the EU. This will certainly continue to be the case, whether Angela Merkel is chancellor or not.

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