“Perhaps we are very perfectionist at times and want to do everything right, because obviously whoever makes a mistake always faces quite a lot of public criticism. But there needs to be flexibility too. That, I believe, is an attribute we as Germans perhaps need to learn a little bit more, alongside our tendency towards perfectionism”.
— Angela Merkel on Germany’s shortcomings in vaccination roll-outs
On Nov 22, 2005, Angela Merkel was elected the Chancellor of The Republic of Germany for the very first time. 15 years on, Merkel remains strong at the helm, having guided Germany through the worst of the pandemic. Having dominated much of European politics in the last decade, Angela Merkel has stated to the members of her party Christian Democratic Union (CDU), that her fourth term will be her last term. There will be space for Angela Merkel successors in the run to compete for the same position. Read on as we ponder upon what the future has in store for us in a world without Merkel, what Merkel leaving office means, and what will be its impact on the nation of Germany and the surrounding European Union (EU).
Passing of the Baton of the Presidency to the EU
Germany’s presidency to the EU Council ended on Dec 31, 2020. Heiko Mass, the Federal Foreign Minister of Germany stepped down, passing over the Baton to his counterpart from Portugal – Augustus Santos Silva.
Among other ancillary objects, The Council of the EU, informally known as “The Council”, deliberates over adopting and amending various laws and regulations, including agreeing on policies governing the entire European Union. The ministers of the EU have authority to commit their governments to the decisions that are finalised by this Council.
You can read more about the Council of EU and the function of its President on <<https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/council-eu/presidency-council-eu/>>
Historically and functionality wise, the President having Presidency to the EU Council possesses massive power in terms of the ability to propose and effect changes and laws. The current ‘trio’ of nations charged with the current leadership of the EU is made up of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. Despite the rotational Presidency, Germany’s input will still be detrimental in guiding plans and policies of the EU.
Challenges that lay ahead for Germany and EU
In the short-run, and in terms of socio-economic issues, not much will change, since modern Germany is built on the principals of extreme stability. But not many know what holds for Angela Merkel Successors in the coming future.
The political scenery however will become more turbulent, continuing the trends it is already currently displaying. Merkel was a signifier of centrist rational approach within her party, i.e CDU, which is inherently conservatist. Her absence does correlate with the tendency of that party as a whole to lean a bit towards the right, particularly to avoid continued loss of voters to extremist right wing parties such as ‘Alternative for Germany’ or AfD. I suspect this tendency could have played an instrumental factor in Merkel stepping down from leadership of the party.
This shift in alignment will further weaken the leading coalition between CDU and CSU, increasing the vacancy that can be filled up by Angela Merkel Successors – a trend already visible in recent elections. The right aligned AfD, and the leftist Green party are the main Angel Merkel successors for that vacancy. And while initially AfD had noticeable successes, Greens have managed to emerge victorious at least temporarily, which I suspect will remain the case at least in the short term.
All of this leads to a less coherent political scenario, which will potentially affect both the EU and Germany, as well as weaken the government’s efficiency in responding to extraordinary situations such as the pandemic. The extent of that effect of course is yet to be seen.
If I must talk about a bit further into the future, there are two likely outcomes: competition between Angela Merkel successors, a strong tendency to create another equally strong coalition, or dissolution of the power of the coalition. I suspect the first outcome hinges on the success of Greens or lack of success by both Greens and the AfD. Whereas the second option is more likely if AfD displays a comeback during the transition period. In either case, I highly suspect the next coalition will be equally centrist or further left-aligning, which also affects internal and external policies of Germany, such as long-term governmental plans for transportation and clean energy.
Merkel leads and coordinates several ministries each with several thousands of employees. German administrations are known to be very efficient. And officialdom is absolutely persistent like a supertanker. No fast directional change is possible.
And it is very likely, some of her ministers will stay in office even if Merkel is replaced. Some believe that Germany is Merkel and Merkel is Germany, that is not the case. In Germany there are two strong powers. On one hand, politics with Merkel, on the other side the economy with industrial and trading associations. Cash is king.
So the future for Germany won’t change. Despite a long list of contenders to replace her with the likes of Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz, Norbert Röttgen, Markus Söder and Jens Spahn, it will be hard to replace the level of diplomacy and centrist politics that Angela Maerkel exuberates. But, if Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer were to become the new chancellor, the European community spirit might become a lot better, even more friendly. Kramp-Karrenbauer comes from Saarland, near France and Luxembourg, instead of a socialist provincial village like Merkel did. Merkel did not profit much from speaking Russian, but Kramp-Karrenbauer is good in the French language of diplomacy.
Only way is forward…
Merkel had once said – “One has to find compromises with mutual respect, but also with a clear opinion. That’s politics – always looking to find a common way forward.”