Not just Germany, EU will also badly miss Merkel

Despite pandemic problems, replacing Merkel no mean task


March 27, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Not just Germany, EU will also badly miss Merkel

European Union is going to be missing the stoic Merkel, at least until another German leader powerful enough at home and overseas emerges

Germany is headed for a landmark change this September as Chancellor Angela Merkel hangs up her gloves after 16 years of domination of the German and European political landscape. Germany and European Union will struggle to find Angela Merkel’s replacement.

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Come September and a huge vacuum risks to dominate the political landscape of Germany as well as the European Union as Chancellor Angela Merkel steps down after 16 years of steering the German and EU ships, often out of troubled waters. Merkel was not just the head of the government in Berlin but also the head of her CDU party, the largest party in the country, and hence it is expected that the person who replaces Merkel as Chancellor would also hold both the positions in view of the smooth governance that it led to, at least under Merkel.

With her personality and political savvy, Merkel has dominated the German political ecosystem to such an extent that it has not been easy for her to find a replacement to ensure continuity. An earlier attempt ended in catastrophe when Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, or AKK, her long-time supporter in the CDU, who had been elected head of the party in 2019, was forced to step down in ignominy as a rebellion saw her party leadership in the east German state of Thuringia support the extreme right AfD party to install the leader of a small, pro-business party to form government. Though she had full backing of Merkel before this episode, AKK had failed to control her party anywhere in the same fashion as Merkel had.

A fresh election earlier this year saw another Merkel loyalist Armin Laschet, prime minister of North Rhine Westphalia elected head of CDU. However, within days of his taking over CDU, polls indicated than only 12 pc Germans wanted him to take charge as Chancellor, too. A much bigger number, over 43 pc, preferred Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soder to replace Merkel. The only problem is that Soder does not belong to CDU, but is from CSU, the junior member in the coalition government.

While Merkel may not have a problem in handing over the baton of government to Soder, it is bound to raise voices in her own CDU party as there are many other contenders who have been patiently waiting for their turn at the helm and losing it to a party that is far too smaller than CDU will not go down well with them. Currently, CDU has 200 members in Bundestag, while CSU has only 46. Thus, a very delicate balancing act is in order for Merkel and her successor in the government.

Moreover, the bad performance by CDU and CSU in state elections held last month indicate that the transition from Merkel will be difficult and in extremely turbulent times for the coalition members who would struggle to retain office in Berlin in September, should the current trends continue.

However, a smooth succession is vital not just for the CDU, CSU and the ruling coalition but Germany as well. Even though the situation has worsened, at least healthwise, over the past few months, German economy continues to outperform other EU countries, thanks in part to the stringent measures taken early on in the spread and a healthy dose of government assistance to help the economy stay alive. With Chinese economy steaming ahead now, Germany should be assured of finding some volumes in its largest market outside the single market.

The challenge for Merkel’s replacement at least as Chancellor would be to keep the social order. The last few months have seen increasingly frequent protests by Germans, mainly fueled by the extreme-right wing AfD party, against the strict measures to keep Covid in check. The unrest is a thing to worry about as more and more Germans seem to be getting tired of being obliged to stay indoors and follow strict orders without any clarity on how long they may be required to do so and about when life may at least start returning to a semblance of normalcy.

The challenge for the government, under Merkel and beyond, is to handle this unrest and bring order to the society to ensure that all the hard work done to curb the pandemic and keep the economy chugging along does not come undone due to repeated protests and violations of the conditions.

That may sound easier than done and the ruling party will soon have an idea of how difficult it may really be. Merkel is set to get a taste of her popularity and her hold over German politics and her CDU-CSU coalition an idea of life without Merkel, in the months to come as six states in the country head to elections in March-April.

But it is not just the ruling coalition or even Germany that will find Merkel hard to replace. The European Union is also going to be missing the stoic Merkel, at least until another German leader powerful enough at home and overseas emerges.

For the past decade or so, the European Union ship has been piloted by a close partnership between Germany and France, especially since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the subsequent exit of the United Kingdom from the EU. But while Merkel has held the German position and policies stable and certain, France has moved from right to left and back to right again in the same period as Merkel has seen four French Presidents come in at the Elysée.

As the EU recovers from Covid19 as well as from the blast of the four turbulent years of Donald Trump era which seriously threatened EU’s ties with its closest partner, the United States, there are other challenges that it faces. Relationship with an increasingly belligerent Russia, a mini revolt within the EU especially from far-right governments in Hungary and Poland as well as the question of EU’s ties with China would need a strong and calm handling, something that Merkel has adequately provided for a long while.

French President Emmanuel Macron could play his part, but he is facing a tough challenge at home as he prepares for a rerun next year. With extreme right leader Marine Le Pen as the strongest contender for long, Macron has been edging towards the right even more, often blurring the distinction with Le Pen’s policies. Not only is Macron going to be looking inwards for the next many months, but his rightward shift is unlikely to help the incoming German Chancellor pick up the relationship between France and Germany from where Merkel leaves it.

These and many other challenges and surprises are bound to ensure that Merkel’s staid, stoic and perhaps even boring style of leadership would be badly missed in Berlin as much as in Brussels.



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