Suddenly there is a massive quiver in German politics as well as EU politics. Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her desire to throw in the towel before the national elections set for 2021, and for the first time since she took over in 2005, has given a very clear message to her nation – as well as her colleagues in the European Union – she will be quitting the stage for a new leader to take over. Merkel’s decision is partly embedded in the fast shifting political landscape in Germany, where her Christian Democrat Union (CDU), which she has led since 2000, has suffered a series of startling setbacks in provincial polls since late September. The most striking is the steep decline in support for Merkel’s party in the recent elections in the province of Hesse, where the financial centre of Frankfurt is vital to Germany’s fiscal stability and economy. Similarly, the CDU and its sister party in Bavaria, the CSU, have witnessed dwindling support among voters. On the right side of the divide, the CDU and the Social Democrats are being continuously pushed hard by Alternative for Germany (AfD) whose anti-Islamic and neo-fascist slogans are attracting populist support, while on the left, the Greens are showing signs of a gradual revival as a palpable number of voters are viewing the environment and progressive policies as better option than what Merkel’s CDU is pursuing.
With her announcement regarding her intention not to run again for CDU leader, many political observers in Brussels believe that the twilight of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship in Berlin has now begun. This summer, after the failed EU refugee summit, some of the influential political news portals like Politico started openly talking about the fast-approaching political demise of Chancellor Merkel. There is no doubt that her assertiveness and influence has suffered badly because of the internal bickering within her grand coalition of CDU, CSU and SPD. It is also true that Merkel’s 2015 refugee policy course has indirectly instigated the rise of populists in many EU countries. She miserably failed to execute the solidarity she demanded on migration policies, or a binding distribution of refugees. Only recently has she realised, though quite late, that her strategy on refugees has backfired bitterly. That’s why she has started supporting the proposal of closing down the EU’s external borders while setting up asylum centres in North Africa. This is a big change in her approach, but too late. Though Merkel is still the most popular European leader, however, an anti-Merkel theme has also acquired considerable momentum in the European Union in general.
In fact, she is most valued and appreciated among the Europeans because of her exceptional contribution in maintaining unprecedented and prolong chapter of stability in Berlin. In times of grave uncertainty that has prevailed across the continent in the later part of this decade, stability itself is considered to be a precious commodity in Europe. She is respected for being the longest-serving head of government in the bloc and the most experienced leader in Europe, but more than anything else, it is her incomparable endeavours to build the EU as a robust and viable association with sufficient weightage in the global power equation that has earned her the stature of a genuine global leader. Her sensible political and economic policies have enabled Germany to become the powerhouse – both in diplomatic and economic terms - of the European Union and an influential leader on the global platform. The refugee crisis was a litmus test of her gallant approach towards humanitarian aspects of the global power struggle and she emerged as icon of hope and humanity when she welcomed with open arms more than a million distressed and desolate refugees. Her courage and tenacity during the height of the refugee crisis was exemplary.
So far, during the last 13 years, Angela Merkel has been the most potent voice to promote the concept of European integration. France and Germany are working together to find a solution to secure the euro and strengthen the Eurozone so as to withstand the crises. President Macron might now miss his partner for those plans in their execution stage, even though Merkel hasn’t accommodated some of his recommendations for the Eurozone budgets. At the next EU summit in December, a banking union and number of other financial issues are scheduled to be finalised. The dilapidated discipline within the EU will further crumble when it comes time to reach a consensus at summits if Merkel will not be there to mediate. Without a powerful German head of government who has always managed to limit any damage among insurgent populist leaders, many rebellious member states are expected to go ahead with their individual agendas.
Certainly her decision marks the end of an era. Perhaps the dominant figure in German and European politics for more than a decade, Merkel has made every effort to make it seem like this was all part of the plan. She has asserted that she had made the decision to relinquish the top slot months ago — though she also admits that it is a major deviation from her previous conviction that the Chancellor had to be the party leader as well to run Germany better. Though many observer see her move as a tactical retreat to placate internal party critics to ensure that her final chancellorship is a little smoother. It also indicates that she has smartly avoided the ugly spectacle of a hostile leadership challenge from the right of the party at the CDU’s December party conference. She knows well that her political career has reached at a point where she has to start planning her gradual withdrawal from the political scene in instalments. While referring to her decision to put a full stop to her political ambitions in the coming days, she has again displayed her traditional humbleness and modesty; “Everything has its advantages and disadvantages, I’ve decided on this option, and it’s not anything special, even internationally.”
The writer is a freelance columnist.