Is something happening?

As we have been able to witness with unfortunate regularity lately, not every election helps move politics forward. Fortunately, some still do.

While Sunday’s regional election in the Austrian state of Steiermark, which was widely expected to be the decisive reason behind the Austrian government’s determination that the treaty opening EU accession talks with Turkey – which were supposed to start with a (now postponed) signing ceremonyat 5pm CET today – explicitly include the option of a non-standard membership or so-called privileged partnership, did not help to overcome the impasse, the by-election in Dresden seems to have shifted the balance of power in the race for the German Chancellory to the extent that Chancellor Schröder told RTL television – before attending a meeting of the SPD’s steering committee this afternoon – that (my translation, German from Spiegel Online) –

“… this is not about me. It’s about my party’s entitlement to lead, and only the party leadership can decide about it. I will accept whichever decision will be made. I don’t want to impede the development of the reform process which I have started or the formation of a stable government for Germany.”

Certainly, we won’t know for sure for a while, but such a statement is clearly an invitation to the party to come up with possible cabinet rosters excluding him. So, actually unexpectedly, Schröder blinked first, and Angela Merkel managed to hold her troops together surprisingly well. When the coalition talks will be over and the parties will turn to a more thorough analysis of the campaign, Schröder might be forced to find that his smug performance in the party leader’s debate after the election has cost him a lot of the clout he had just gained at polls.

As entertaining as this debate was, people eventually seem to have decided that they did not like what they saw, that this was not the compassionate, considerate Schröder they had seen in the debate with Angela Merkel two weeks earlier. It’s not unlikely it was Schröder’s performance that helped Angela Merkel unite her party despite “her” weak election result. And it’s not unlikely some of those who still had to vote may have turned against him.

Easy come, easy go.