Twilight of Chancellor Merkel

On October 29, 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she would not run for the CDU presidency in the December elections. Since the post of chancellor can only be held by the chairman of the CDU, in 2021 it will be occupied by someone else, which can lead to significant changes in the country’s domestic and foreign policy. Valdai Club expert Alexander Rahr discussed the reasons for Merkel’s decision, the future prospects of the CDU-SPD coalition and possible candidates for the post of Chancellor in an interview with

Angela Merkel’s current decision is not the first example when the Chancellor hands over the chairmanship of the party to other hands. So did Gerhard Schröder, and in German history there were such cases, so nothing terrible happened. This decision is due to the fact that Merkel quickly loses her reputation, loses the support of the population, as well as credibility in her own party. Therefore, her step is absolutely logical. She wants to leave slowly and save her face, she does not intend to look like a loser.

So far, she remains at the head of Germany as chancellor and will deal with foreign policy, European affairs and other things of the same kind, and the other person will deal with domestic issues, especially with party problems. This other person, be it a woman or a man elected in December, will get all the chances to become chancellor at the latest in 2021 or earlier, if there are reelections. They are also possible, because the SPD, CDU’s partner in the coalition, is also on the verge of collapse, losing its importance and the support of voters. Now, more and more voices are heard within the party, demanding the coalition liquidation, going into opposition and regeneration of new forces. Everything is possible in Germany: the options of events’ development may be different, but the fact is that the era of Merkel is drooping.

The central question now is who will succeed Merkel. Only a few hours after she announced her resignation from the post of party chairperson, there were already three candidates ready to fight for her inheritance. All the three said that the struggle will be tough.

A lot depends on who is elected to this key post: this is the party leader who will deal with the domestic policies, and later with the foreign policy, who will assemble a new team, will have their own ideas, which should be different from Angela Merkel’s views. Everyone understands that with her ideas it will be difficult to stabilize the country.

Now there are three possible heirs, one woman and two men. The main candidate with the greatest chance of success is a person who is very close to Merkel – Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. In many ways, she is just a clone of Merkel. If she becomes chairperson of the party or chancellor, it is difficult to say whether there will be innovations in German politics. However, the chancellor and the government seem to be inclined to pass the reins to her. Another candidate is Friedrich Mertz, a heavyweight politician, whom Merkel dismissed from the leadership of the CDU ten years ago as her competitor, and therefore he worked in private business. Merz is closely associated with the United States, he headed the main organization of trans-Atlantists – Atlantik-Brücke. For Russia he will be a very difficult partner because of his pro-Americanism. Finally, the third candidate – Jens Spahn. He is very young, 38 years old, and currently serves as Federal Minister of Health. It is difficult to say whether he is able to make his way to the top of the party. He has chances, although they are smaller than those of Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbauer. Merkel herself opposes Spahn to take her place, because he follows more conservative views.

Merkel’s mistake is that in the minds of voters she made the CDU, once a stronghold of conservatism, a typical left party, which is not different from the Green Party.

Those who are interested in the CDU-Greens alliance, will continue to support Kramp-Karrenbauer. There will be a struggle of conservatives inside the party who will oppose it, since the face of the party must be changed and the CDU should be diverted from the liberal course and leftist positions towards the conservative ones. In this situation, a politician like Mertz may receive some support from the party leadership.

Some of these candidates are more conservative, others are liberal, but they are all absolute trans-Atlantists, part of the current elite. All of them will adhere to the ideas of the united Europe, cooperation with the United States, which is becoming harder and harder. All of them have a very critical attitude towards Russia. As for the domestic policy, it is likely to remain unchanged. If Mertz or Spahn come to power, it will be tougher, the “open door” policy will be replaced by closeness. Anyway, the struggle is just beginning, and it is very difficult to predict anything.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.