What Merkel departure will mean for Germany, Europe and China

By George N. Tzogopoulos Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/7 18:43:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


The beginning of the European debt crisis in the last months of 2009 revealed the EU weakness to act in good times for bad times. The eurozone could not be saved without the intervention of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. The latter already departed from his position and now acts as speaker in the Bundestag while the former has announced her decision not to be a candidate again for the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) chairmanship. An important chapter in the modern history of Germany and Europe is slowly coming to an end.

The decision of Merkel is mature. She belongs to the very few politicians who do not put their personal interest above national interest and are able to listen to the message of voters. The CDU easily won the Bundestagswahl of September 2017 but did not enjoy the high percentages of previous federal elections. The main reason is the chancellor's response to the refugee crisis. Her August and September 2015 open-door approach allowed numerous refugees to come to Germany. Many conservative voters do not forgive Merkel for her stance. This became apparent during the recent regional elections in Bavaria and Hessen.

The post-Merkel landscape looks politically obscure. As far as domestic politics are concerned, there are three main candidates to possibly succeed her. CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, former parliamentary leader Friedrich Merz and Health Minister Jens Spahn. The first surveys conducted after the chancellor's decision not to run again do not demonstrate an impressive increase in CDU popularity. Although it is early to anticipate future developments before the December party conference, the mission of her successor will be difficult.

It is not certain that the new CDU leader will possess the statecraft of Merkel. The CDU needs to redefine its agenda in order to put a brake on the rise of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD). The AfD is employing an aggressive rhetoric against incoming refugees for which the CDU has found no reliable response in the last three years. The first polls do not exhibit any serious damage to the AfD. The new CDU leader will have to persuade voters of the center-right political spectrum about the efficiency of a new conservative plan to deal with the ongoing refugee crisis that will contradict the chancellor's ambiguous policy.

Such a plan will perhaps help the CDU and its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU) bridge their differences. In recent months, CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer caused serious governmental crises by disagreeing with Merkel. The CSU also seriously suffered in the Bavaria regional election. The new CDU leader needs to restore tranquility between the two parties which had harmoniously collaborated before the outbreak of the refugee crisis.

The 2021 Bundestagswahl will certainly be different for German voters. For the time being, there are also unknown factors which do not only include the CDU future orientation but also the alleged capability of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to recover as well as the potential possibility of the Greens to preserve the success of regional elections in the federal one. The course of the national economy is not expected to be influenced by internal political developments as it stands on solid foundations. It is the EU that will principally lack the leadership of Merkel. The EU finds itself at a crossroads and German leadership - at least in economic affairs and the reform process - is a prerequisite for it to avoid new crises.

As far as Sino-German relations are concerned, the departure of Merkel does not constitute good news as she has generally favored close cooperation. The chancellor has visited China several times, values the importance of trade for the bilateral partnership and envisions a better understanding between China and the EU in fields such as climate change. Of course Merkel's political end would - sooner or later - come and what matters is how continuity can be guaranteed. Her successor will hardly ignore numbers. Last year, for example, China was Germany's top trade partner.

Even if the new chancellor will not reach Merkel's degree of stability, certainty and credibility, he or she will have to marshal German policies toward constructive engagement with China.

The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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