What’s next for Germany and the EU?
America is waiting on the outcome of a referendum on the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency with abated breath. The media doesn’t dare make a prediction lest it be proved devastatingly partisan and wrong, again. In fact, it is preparing for the possibility of a Republican majority maintaining power in the legislature and what that could mean for the future of American policy. The balance of the Supreme Court already favors the Conservatives 5–4 after the nominations of Justice Gorsuch and Kavannaugh. The American midterm elections take place on November 6.
Germany is facing a similar reckoning. As you’ve probably heard by now, Chancellor Merkel will be stepping down after 13 years as the leader of Germany. Ms. Merkel’s decision comes after the recent state elections in Hesse and Bavaria where the Christian Democrats (CDU), the party Merkel has led for 18 years, and the Christian Social Union (CSU), a sister party, immensely underperformed. In the western state of Hesse, the CDU recorded its worst election result since 1966.
Chancellor Merkel interpreted this as a sign of changing times and a lack of belief in her agenda. After four terms she will be stepping down and though speculation had been growing, the decision comes as a shock for the cradle of political stability in Europe. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, now steps into the role as the default leader of Europe.
In Germany, two emergent parties are pulling the political conversation at the edges. This election cycle has seen the emergence of the Greens, liberal on environmental conservation and immigration. This rising wave of liberalism has been matched by a growing contingent of conservative nationalism represented by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Many blame Ms. Merkel’s stance on refugees as the catalyst for AfD’s emergence.
Each party represents a faction of differing ideas. Imagine a tug of war contest with the rope tied together by the ideas of political though. Chancellor Merkel’s party, the CDU and its governing coalition, lie just to the right of center and stand for the old order of European liberal democracy. The Greens are pulling Germany left while the AfD struggles in the opposite direction.
The wave of change in Germany, like everything, is easily predictable in hindsight though the warning signs were evident as Merkel’s party struggled to form a governing coalition at the beginning of its most recent term. It seems the recent elections were merely the final straw.
The rise of parties at the extremities of political thought signal a discontent with the gradualist change of the status quo and Chancellor Merkel has seen the tea leaves of her future magnanimously choosing to step outside.
I will remember Angela Merkel, viewed from afar, as a champion of progressive values on immigration. She stood mightily against the bulwark of nationalism pressing in from the East and West, providing leadership during the European debt crises that threatened the continued existence of the EU while offering a welcoming hand to refugees. She stood up to President Trump and demanded a tough line on Russia after its expansion into Crimea.
She will leave to her successor many challenges including a growingly antagonist Russia, an America that has yet to signal its commitment to Article 5 of NATO, Brexit negotiations, and rising nationalist populism in Poland, Hungary, and Italy.
The conversation now turns to whom the mantel will be passed. At a party conference in December, a successor will be chosen from within Ms. Merkel’s party.
Some names that have appeared:
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has been called “mini-Merkel” and earlier this year she was elected party secretary-general of the CDU, a post once held by Ms. Merkel. She once served as governor of Saarland and is considered to be the preferred candidate of Ms. Merkel.
Jens Spahn has earned the moniker the “anti-Merkel” and currently serves as Ms. Merkel’s health minister. He is 38 and was a chief critic of the chancellor’s 2015 refugee policy. He first won a seat in Parliament in 2002 and his work as health secretary has focused on care for the sick.
Armin Laschet is the deputy party leader and last year was elected leader of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state.
Friedrich Merz is the head of BlackRock, a large private fund manager, and senior counsel of an international law firm. Last year he was appointed as Brexit commissioner for North-Rhine Westphalia.
The post World War II international order awaits the future with bated breath. Richard N. Haass, head of the American Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted “The Merkel era is close to ending, leaving the West without a leader. The US of @realDonaldTrump has abdicated. The UK is distracted. Canada lacks means. Macron is too weak. Bodes poorly for stability, prosperity, and freedom.”
Here’s to hope.