Angela Merkel has been the face of European leadership, a global power broker, a force for stability and a trusted friend of several US presidents. But it is on the verge of handing over the keys to European economic power and one of the most respected countries in the world.
Why is this important: The two main candidates to replace Merkel position themselves as her political heir. But whoever wins will likely have to chart a different course than Merkel’s, including navigating the thorny balance of power between the United States and China.
Merkel’s “cautious incrementalism” style has seen Germany go through several crises, says Constanze StelzenmÃ¼ller of the Brookings Institution, but it appears increasingly inadequate in the face of current challenges.
- On issues such as climate change and China, Merkel has been reluctant to disrupt a status quo that benefits the German economy, especially the auto industry.
- “[Merkel’s] an exquisitely tempered balancing style was fantastic for negotiating results at European conferences, “StelzenmÃ¼ller said.” This is clearly not the best approach when dealing with aggressive authoritarian powers, and it clearly does not have enough reflected on preparing Germany for a much more disruptive future. . “
Consensus is changing in Berlin with regard to relations with Russia and in particular China, notes Sudha David-Wilp of the German Marshall Fund.
- She says it will be difficult for the next Chancellor to “follow Merkel’s line”, to defend democratic values ââand to stay close to the United States, while protecting the German export machine.
- Merkel delayed the decision to allow Huawei access to German 5G networks and helped seal an EU-China investment deal (since frozen) in December, despite objections from the new Biden administration.
- “It got to the point of dividing Germany and Europe,” said David-Wilp.
Who is next: The race to replace Merkel is between Olaf Scholz, the leader of the Social Democrats, and Armin Laschet, Merkel’s successor at the head of the Christian Democrats.
- The two are effectively running as contenders for continuity, but voters may see more parallels with Merkel in the technocratic Scholz than the jovial and blundering Laschet, who scored just 10% in a recent poll of preferred chancellor candidates. Germans, at 31% for Scholz.
Many Germans to see the end of the Merkel era with trepidation. She remains by far the most popular politician in the country, and her nickname “Mutti”, or mom, speaks to the national role she has played for so long.
- “The absence of a leader as experienced, resourceful and well connected as Angela Merkel will be felt in times of disruption and insecurity,” predicts StelzenmÃ¼ller.
The bottom line: âThe new chancellor, whoever he is, will not have the same place on the international stage at the start. Itâs sure, âa European diplomat told Axios.