Over the last few months discussion has intensified as to whether Angela Merkel will stand again as candidate for Chancellor in Germany´s federal elections next year. There is hardly any interview, discussion round or article that does not address that question.
In fact., two questions are being asked:
– Will Angela Merkel become the CDU´s candidate again? (for the fourth time) and:
– Will she succeed, if she stands as candidate?
The CDU has lost a lot of attraction over the last year with the voters. In many recent elections in various Länder the party not only lost votes, but also the leadership (e.g. in Baden-Württemberg in the South-West) or even participation in government altogether (e.g. Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the North-East). In some regions it looked set to be the clear winner only four weeks before elections and then found itself on the opposition benches.
The reasons for this decline are many, but the most important is Angst, the fear that owing to the massive influx of refugees the wellbeing of the average citizen won´t be maintained in future. For years people have been told that there was not enough money available to modernize the in parts rotten infrastructure, improve buildings and technical installations of schools and universities and close the pensions gap between eastern and western German citizens. And now, all of a sudden, there is a more than €10bn a year bill on hand for integrating the many refugees. There is also the fear that the many foreigners coming from a very different culture will change Germany’s identity.
The new political party AfD „Alternative für Deutschland“ (Alternative for Germany), founded only a few years ago and close to disappearing before the refugee shock, is capitalizing on the mood of German citizens. It goes from success to success ever since it started to fight openly against ongoing immigration and the „unfair treatment of poor Germans vs. the refugees“. In fact, the AfD has been the clear winner of all recent elections and now sits in ten of the 16 regional parliaments. Even though it is not governing anywhere, it is already influencing politics at regional and national level.
My answer to the two questions asked above is a clear yes. Merkel will stand as candidate and she will become Germany´s next chancellor again. Here are my reasons why:
Officially, all parties will nominate their candidate early next year. In reality we will know before the end of this year. Merkel has made it very clear that she feels that as Chancellor she also has to be the party leader. The CDU will elect a new leader or confirm the current leader at its national party conference in December. If she stands and is re-elected she will also want to run as candidate for the Chancellorship.
Right now, I do not see who else could possibly become the party chair. There are a number of reasons why Merkel may want to go on:
- She is a convinced European and wants to help Europe overcome its current extremely difficult situation. The risk of the EU breaking apart after Brexit is a nightmare for her and she will do whatever she can to eliminate that risk.
- She considers the future relationship of the UK with the EU as vital and wants to participate in shaping that relationship.
- She knows that accepting a million refugees („welcoming culture“) is one thing and integrating them successfully without social frictions is something else. She wants to finish the job and prove that, even though there have been mistakes and difficulties, her basic decision has been right all along.
- The agreement between the EU and Turkey does not stand on very firm ground yet. As she initiated that deal, she wants it to work out in the end.
- The relationship of the two sister parties CDU and CSU is rather poor right now.
- The normalisation of that situation is crucial for winning the next elections and fighting off the rising AfD. She knows that both parties „win together and lose together“ and is willing to swallow hard as long as she succeeds in bringing the two sides together again.
- With the rise of the Afd, a coalition government of just two parties (with the exception of the two big ones CDU/CSU and SPD which made it clear that they do not want to extend the grand coalition) is no longer possible. Therefore, new options involving three parties have to be explored. This means that the next federal government could consist of the CDU/CSU, the Greens and possibly the liberal Free Democrats that are currently gaining ground again and most likely will re-enter the Bundestag.
In an interview some time ago she made it clear that she does not want to make the mistake Helmut Kohl made in assuming nobody else could replace him. So I guess that she is preparing her exit. Most likely she will step down as party leader and Chancellor in the middle of her fourth mandate. By then she may have achieved most of what is still unresolved business right now.