The Irish Times view on German politics: life without Merkel
The next CDU leader faces an unenviable task: establish himself in the party – and with the public – ahead of an election already fixed for September 2021
After four terms, Angela Merkel has managed that rare achievement among government leaders: she will walk out the door before she is pushed – or voted – out. She has had less luck anointing her successor. Photograph: Filip Singer/ EPA
In this age of virus anxiety and Brexit uncertainty, predictions are a bad idea. But it’s safe to say that, a year from now, Germany’s chancellor will not be called Angela Merkel. After four terms, Merkel has managed that rare feat among government leaders: she will walk out the door before she is pushed – or voted – out. She has had less luck anointing her successor.
Two years ago, Merkel stood down as leader of her ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) after 18 years and handed the reigns to her chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Last February, after a series of regional election disasters and policy missteps, the little-loved Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned.
At a digital party conference in mid-January, delegates are likely to choose Armin Laschet, the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, as a centrist leader and a centrist chancellor candidate in the Merkel mould.
The disruption candidate Friedrich Merz, a millionaire businessman and Merkel rival, wants to shift focus back to its neglected centre-right, liberal roots. Their polarising effect may boost a third candidate, Norbert Röttgen, a CDU foreign affairs expert with dark horse potential.
The new leader faces an unenviable task: establish himself in the party – and with the public – ahead of an election already fixed for September 26th next. If the poll was next Sunday the CDU, leading with 37 per cent support, would be in a comfortable position to claim the chancellery for a fifth term. But the party’s popularity is linked inextricably to Merkel, who enjoys a remarkable 74 per cent satisfaction rating among voters. Many who vote CDU do so because of her, not the party, and many have yet to process her departure emotionally – or decide how they will vote without her.
German politics is not known for high drama and the CDU – in power for 50 of the last 70 years – has proven a steady partner in Berlin and in Brussels. Given all the uncertainty hanging over the new year, however, the last thing Europe needed this Christmas was a question mark where the continent’s most powerful party leader should be.