Rethinking Europe

Merkel: One More Time

In 2017, German Chancellor Merkel will assume the helm of her troubled country – for the fourth time. Unless she decides not to run.

Credit: 360b Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • The media and pundits say that Merkel is running out of gas. Or out of time. Or out of patience.
  • Merkel is facing more serious challenges in her fourth run in the 2017 elections than did Kohl in 1994.
  • Merkel gaining another term as Chancellor is a safer prediction to make than Clinton winning the White House.

A year from now, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, will be approaching the closing days of her election campaign – if she chooses to enter it in 2017.

It is safe to say that, if she runs, she will win that election for the fourth time, a feat no other Chancellor has matched besides Helmut Kohl. She will also form a coalition government as she has done three times before by necessity.

Whether that will again with the Social Democrats or whether she will forge another majority, say, with the Greens, depends on the numbers and the ability to find common platform ground.

She keeps beating them

But the prediction is that Chancellor Merkel will assume the helm of a troubled country – again.
She did it in 2005 in a hairline victory over her rival Gerhard Schroeder in the midst of a troubled economy.

She did it again in 2009, amidst a global recession and a nervous electorate fearful of an unraveling of the Euro system and indeed the European project.

Merkel did her “three-peat” in 2013, amidst multiple global foreign policy crises and increasing demands on Germany to help solve them. She won that year by conveying an image of a zen-like composure in the face of serious challenges.

One too many for the history books?

In 2017, Merkel will face challenges which cumulatively come to those long in public office or in the public eye. They become targets of those in opposition and are simply frustrated by the longevity of a winning political leader.

The media, long adoring, will finally have their knives out, longing for something, someone new to report on. There also is the mere fact that the longer one is in office, the more missteps one can make.

Some compare Merkel’s fourth campaign to that of Helmut Kohl’s. Helmut Kohl won his first term as Chancellor in 1983 and his fourth term in 1994. Those last four years were disastrous.

Out of steam, like Kohl?

Kohl simply ran out of political gas because he had no real innovative platform to offer the voters. There also was an exhaustion factor working against him with the electorate.

When Kohl tried for a fifth time, the result was a devastating loss for the CDU and its coalition partners the CSU and the FDP in 1998, the federal election which opened the door to the first SPD-led coalition with the Green Party.

It was only in 2005 that the CDU was able to regain the Chancellory, barely squeaking out a victory with Angela Merkel as Chancellor.

Merkel has been in the Kanzleramt ever since and has sustained her popular support throughout that period. Until now. But the circumstances for Merkel today are tougher than for Kohl 22 years ago.
Has she overreached?

Consider the heavy lifting that stands in her way. Merkel has to contend with:

  • Domestic political posturing among political parties
  • Rising anxiety among Germans in light of terrorist attacks around the European neighborhood
  • Increasing dysfunction within the European Union, including the fallout of Brexit
  • threats emerging well beyond the European continent which are then causing the refugees crisis.

That entire mountain of challenges, sizeable enough to defeat even a Hercules, is being used by the media and pundits to say that Merkel is running out of gas. Or out of time. Or out of patience with unceasingly impatient voters.

She isn’t the only one who’s weak

The fact that the newest opposition party – the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) – has been able to pick up traction in several state elections in recent years, most recently in Merkel’s home state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, adds to this trend.

The weak stance of the Social Democrats in national polls has caused its party leaders to look for support by criticizing Merkel’s leadership.

The other coalition partner in Merkel’s coalition in Berlin, the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union, is intensifying its attacks on the Chancellor over her immigration policies. Its leaders are adamant about staving off the increasing popularity of the AfD nationally, but most assuredly also in Bavaria.

2017: No compelling coalition options

Meanwhile, the remaining parties in opposition – the Greens, the Liberals (FDP) and the Left Party – are each evaluating their options in next year’s election.

While the Greens sense an opportunity to consider a coalition with Chancellor Merkel this time, they may need to share it with the Liberals to get a majority. This assumes the Liberals are again represented in the Parliament.

Yet, such a coalition is a volatile mix and would lead to blowback from the leaders of the CSU in Bavaria for proposing such a coalition. Merkel could also pursue another option in coalition poker – joining forces again with the Social Democrats for a third time.

Merkel no good for the SPD, other than for government posts

But the leaders of the SPD have seen their national political popularity decline in the two coalitions with Merkel since 2005, even though they remain well represented at the state levels of government.

They may find themselves doubting whether a third partnership in Berlin would be any more promising in their bid to regain the Chancellery.

Few friends in Europe left

While the domestic critics of Merkel will be loud over the next twelve months, there is equal criticism emerging from some other European capitals. They charge Merkel with violations of European policies in dealing with the refugee issues or for colluding with Turkish President Erdogan.

The belief is that her forging an agreement with Erdogan is morally wrong – particularly after the attempted coup and his ensuing crackdown on all opposition parties, media suppression and citizens facing mass arrests.

On top of all this, Merkel will have her hands full in helping negotiate the Brexit deal with London as well in an acrimonious atmosphere in Brussels.

A bigger mountain than for Kohl

Angela Merkel is facing more serious challenges in her fourth run at the 2017 elections than did Helmut Kohl in 1994.

The factors that stand in her way are:

  • A wobbly European Union
  • An aggressive Russia
  • A serious domestic debate over the refugee challenge
  • A crumbling consensus in and among political parties in Germany as they are confronted with the populist backlash raging through Europe.

Predictions are hard to make. Perhaps the prediction that Angela Merkel will gain another term as Chancellor is somewhat safer to make than Clinton winning the White House.

But it is safe to say is that if these two women win their respective races, they will each confront enormous challenges in governing two very complicated republics.

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About Jackson Janes

Jackson Janes is executive director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies

Responses to “Merkel: One More Time”

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  1. On September 19, 2016 at 5:28 am Werner responded with... #

    Is there anybody of political stature in Germany to step up against her ? Gabriel ? Seehofer ? Anyone crazy enough?