In London, a joke is going around. Europe has now two capital cities. The first one: Berlin. The other – after a pause for artistic effect: Frankfurt. In Greece, rumours are circulating that after the election the German government may bring debt relief onto the agenda.

And in Spain there is a presumption that the issue of bank liquidation will be cleared up on September 23. After the German election, the biggest of the toxic dumps in the Iberian peninsula would be jointly settled; no need to worry.

No, no one in Germany is worried. No one is even talking about Europe in this election campaign. No one is asking whether there are any fresh ideas to deal with the crisis. This crisis, about which everyone has grown tired of hearing, has probably reached its zenith, but it is far from being over. No one is asking about the national risk of a bank liquidation. No one is talking about the architecture of a new Europe that should prevent a repeat of the crisis.

Without Germany, nothing in Europe budges

And would it be unthinkable that a referendum on a new constitution would be the most important political event in the next legislature? A vote on a new constitution, in which the Germans transfer a few important elements of their sovereignty to Brussels?

Much is possible and much is being mulled over, in Paris, in London, in Brussels. Probably never in postwar history has a Bundestag election exerted such fascination on Germany’s neighbours , not only because Angela Merkel has turned out to be the most powerful woman in on the continent or possibly around the entire globe. It’s easy to make politics understandable when it’s based on the example of a life story.

Who decides – and who pays?

The elections to the Bundestag are tied up in the rest of Europe almost with an expectation of salvation, as if on September 23 there will be presents laid out like on Christmas morning. This mood reflects two things: the significance that Germany, so economically dominant on the continent, has acquired; without Germany, nothing moves in Europe, which has been at a standstill in the past few weeks. And secondly, it reflects the public pressure for something to be done, a pressure that has once again been dammed up.

Four states are under the emergency trusteeship of the euro countries. One, Ireland, should get out from under it this year. Portugal and Spain are considered stabilised. Greece probably still needs help. This is known. Issue number two is the EU budget, which many states are peering at with great covetousness, and which has not yet been passed by the European Parliament. It involves a lot of money, and how it will be shared out, and it’s about the campaign that will soon be fought in Europe. There’s a whiff of noisy controversy.

The biggest desires, though, focus on Germany and the liquidation of the banks, and on the actual key question: how must the Eurozone be built so that the trouble does not repeat itself? That question goes to the heart of all politics: who decides, and who pays?

A German giant

Germany, which has a fundamental interest in the survival of the euro, should come up with a few ideas – about how future budgets in the eurozone will be harmonised and controlled, how social systems will be adapted and how state investments will be distributed. It will plainly have to deal with the key issue: whether these different states of Europe can ever develop remotely comparable competitiveness, or whether not transfer payments will be necessary – similar to the fiscal equalisation mechanism within Germany itself.

All this touches on issues of budgetary law, parliamentary oversight, the architecture of democracy in Europe. In the end, all this could lead to a revision of the constitution in Germany, including the referendum that would then be necessary. All Europe sees these problems and is staring spellbound at Germany. And Germany?

Germany is going to have a laid-back election, but on the day after the election, it is going to shove back those eagerly outstretched hands like slamming down a window on an autumn storm. No miracles are on their way and there will be no presents under any Christmas trees. Angela Merkel is probably not about to change her stripes, and the SPD is also showing no fresh zeal for all things euro. Nevertheless, a new pace of reform is expected and some are even awaiting a major deal. Germany may be making itself small in the election campaign, but from the outside, it remains a hulking giant. And this Gulliver will find it difficult to get out from under the shackles lying in wait for it.