After Angela Merkel, Who Will Lead Germany—and Europe?

Posted by On 1:38 PM

After Angela Merkel, Who Will Lead Germanyâ€"and Europe?

Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday, as she took the stage at a press conference in Berlin, needs to write “a new chapter”; the one with her name on it is done, or almost so. She will not leave tomorrow, or even next year, if she has anything to do with it. Merkel will step down as the leader of her party, the Christian Democratic Union, in early December, at its next conference, in Hamburg. She would like to stay on as Chancellor until 2021, which is when she would have had to run for reëlection, though she may be pushed out sooner. In any event, she said, “This fourth term as Chancellor is my last.” (She added, “just for the record,” that she would not seek any other office, either.) Whether she can stay on depends, as much as anything, on whether anyone in her party, or in any German party, can really measure up to her and make a convincing leadership claim before then. She has served as the center for thirteen years.

On Sunday, the C.D.U. won just twenty-seven per cent of the vote in elections in the federal state of Hesse (which includes Frankfurt), a drop of eleven per cent since the state’s last election, in 2013. That followed similarly grim results for the C.D.U.’s sister party, the Christian Social Union (C.S.U.), in Bavarian state elections two weeks agoâ€"thirty-seven per cent, down ten. What is especially unsettling is that the C.D.U. was, in both cases, still the biggest vote-getter, or rather the biggest remaining fragment in a riven political field. The Social Democratic Party, the traditional left-of-center party, has lost its way; it didn’t quite manage to get twenty per cent in Hesse (down ten per cent), ending up in a virtual tie with the Green Party (which was up by almost nine). Thankfully, both were a few points ahead of the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (A.F.D.), but for how long? The A.F.D. got more than thirteen per cent of the vote, tripling its previous share, and will enter the regional legislature for the first time.

What is even more alarming is that the German results are hardly an isolated phenomenon. Merkel made her announcement the day after Jair Bolsonaro won the Presidency in Brazil and a day before President Donald Trump announced that he thought he could end birthright citizenship in the United States despite the clear words of the Constitution stating otherwise. From Viktor Orbán, in Hungary, to Rodrigo Duterte, in the Philippines, there is a clear theme emerging: love the big man, fear the stranger.

Germany doesn’t have such a figure yetâ€"not this time around. (Nor does Britain, though it has Boris Johnson, whose farce is getting uglier, and Brexit.) It has had Merkel, who urged Germans to believe, with regard to the large-scale arrival of refugees, that “we can handle it,” a position that her party has forced her to partially retreat fr om. Since last year’s parliamentary elections, she has held her position thanks only to an unstable “Grand Coalition” with the S.P.D.â€"the Große Koalition, known in shorthand as the GroKoâ€"which might not hold together for long. She is burdened by the rise of extremism, by domestic discontent related to her welcoming of refugees, and by the weight of her long tenureâ€"she has been in office longer than Franklin D. Roosevelt, the longest-serving American President, was at the time of his death. A person doesn’t hold power for that long in a competitive political system without having an instinct for it. That is particularly true of someone like Merkel, who came from a marginal part of the countryâ€"the former East Germanyâ€"and only entered politics after a career as a scientist, seizing the moment, after reunification, when so much was up for grabs. And Merkel’s instincts apparently told her that if she wanted to control her exit, she had to make her move now.< /p>

In a way, though, the American President whom Merkel recalled the most on Monday was Lyndon B. Johnson, who delivered a televised address to the nation on the night of March 31, 1968. For most of the speech, he spoke in earnest detail about his attempts to find some sort of way out of Vietnam. This included an announcement that the United States would pull back onâ€"though not stopâ€"bombing what was then North Vietnam. The surprise came at the end of the speech, when he said that he saw the task of peace as too important for him to “devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes,” and added, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”

The parallels are imperfect: Johnson was mired in an unjust war, and Merkel had tried to be true to a humanitarian ideal that was hard-won in Germany. But there is a sense that the fight over Europe’s identity has been for Merkel what Vietnam was fo r L.B.J., and the warning that his experience offers is that putting aside politics doesn’t necessarily give a President the chance to sit down and get things done. Politics is the job. Politics meant that Nixon, even during the campaign, with the prospect that he would be the person to talk to next, undermined Johnson’s efforts. Nixon won, the war went on, Watergate came next.

Who can succeed Merkel? In terms of the Chancellorship, the question is complicated by the fragility of the GroKo; if it breaks up, there is a possibility of snap elections, scrambling all prospects. Within the C.D.U. itselfâ€"still, together with the C.S.U., the largest blocâ€"there is a short list of names: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as A.K.K., who is the Party’s general secretary and a Merkel disciple; Jens Spahn, the Minister of Health, who is seen as a leader of those who regard Merkel as not conservative enough (he is also married to a man, a reminder that the American meanings of ter ms like conservative are not universal); Friedrich Merz, who lost a power struggle with Merkel more than a decade ago but recently reëntered the political realm (he spent much of the interval working for the investment firm BlackRock); Ursula von der Leyen, the Minister of Defense (also a Merkel ally); Armin Laschet, who is the head of the government of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (which is kind of like being the governor of a combined state of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois); and others. None of them is a completely obvious choice yet to lead the Party, let alone the country. (The same can be said of the other major parties.) For them, the next weeks and months will be a process of becoming a leader, not just being selected as one at a party conference.

That ought to also mean becoming a leader in the face of Germany’s emerging extremism. It means being the European leader who can, with others, such as Emmanuel Macron, clearly express what Europe means and what it stands for. And it means standing up to Trump, and to Vladimir Putin, who once, rather pathetically, brought his dog to a meeting to try to intimidate Merkel. At least Merkel, for the moment, is still fighting. But soon she will be gone.

Source: Google News Germany | Netizen 24 Germany

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