Merkel could remain as caretaker chancellor into new year, Varadkar says

Outgoing German chancellor is a strong ally and warm, down-to-Earth person – Tánaiste

Angela Merkel could remain on as caretaker German chancellor into the new year as coalition talks take place, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar also spoke of her support for Ireland during the Brexit process and how, despite a caricature that she is “stern”, she is “warm”, “chatty” and “even a bit gossipy”.

The Minister for Enterprise and Trade was asked about the results of the German election and his own reflections on Ms Merkel at an event at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC.

After Sunday's election, German chancellor hopeful Olaf Scholz called for talks between his centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Green Party and liberal Free Democratic Party to form a progressive coalition in Berlin.


Germany’s general election saw his SPD finish up five points on 25.7 per cent of the vote while its main rival, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and its Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union, slumped nearly nine points to 24.1 per cent.

CDU politician Ms Merkel had long-flagged her intention to step down as chancellor and make way for a potential successor ahead of the election.

Armin Laschet, the current CDU leader, faces an election postmortem with his party on Tuesday morning after 94 MPs lost their seats in a lacklustre campaign.

The CDU is a sister party of Mr Varadkar's Fine Gael in Europe.

The Tánaiste told the US audience that it could be months before a coalition is formed in Germany.

“I think the Merkel caretaker government could well be around until Christmas or into the new year,” he said.

He added: “As I’ve learned, leading a caretaker government during a pandemic, caretaker governments have full constitutional authority to govern. So I believe she’ll be around for a little while yet.”

Strong ally

He said he has found Ms Merkel to be “a really strong ally”.

Mr Varadkar said that Germany’s federal system is not all about Bavaria and other large states and that smaller ones “really matter too”.

He said that during the Brexit process, Ms Merkel “had a particular understanding that small states matter”.

Mr Varadkar said he believes that at various points some of the strong advocates of Brexit in London thought the “big countries could just meet some day and sort it out like would have been the case in the 18th or 19th century”.

He said: “That was never going to happen while she was there because she understood the importance of respecting small states in a federal . . . system.

“And that was crucial but I think that will actually carry through to any future German chancellor because of that system they understand so well.”

Mr Varadkar said politicians are often caricatured and in Ireland Ms Merkel was portrayed as “being kind of stern or very serious as Germans often are caricatured as”.

He said: “That’s not the woman that I knew. She was very warm and very chatty and even a bit gossipy after meetings and so on.

“A very normal, down-to-Earth person and I just hope she has a great life post-politics.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times