Why you should care
Because a political era is coming to an end in Europe.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 64, announced on Monday that she would step down as leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU) in December and would not seek re-election in 2021. On live television, the leader that millions of Germans call Mutti, or Mother, informed her constituents that they would have to “get ready for the time after me.” Merkel’s move came just hours after her party’s disastrous electoral showing in the western state of Hesse.
Why does it matter? Chancellor Merkel has been a rock in German and European politics for well over a decade, and whether she clings to power until the end of her term in 2021 or is pushed out by an election or party rivals before then, the Merkel era is drawing to a close. Some observers worry Merkel’s exit will leave Germany less able to lead the continent as Europe deals with Brexit, budget chaos in Italy and a continuing migrant crisis. Merkel’s government has been a guiding force in Europe on economic and foreign policy.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Rise and fall. Merkel became the first female, non-Catholic chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union Party in 2000 when she took over for Helmut Kohl. Then, in 2005, she became the first female Chancellor of Germany. A firm hand in Eurozone affairs, she took a hardline approach to Greece’s bailout plans and austerity measures. Described as one of the most powerful women in Europe, she adopted an open border policy at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, which damaged her popularity and enabled the far-right to make gains in Germany. The 2017 election saw her party’s worst result since 1949, followed by poor regional election results this month before she announced her decision to step down.
The replacements. It’s uncertain who will replace Merkel but CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer tops many lists and is expected to continue Merkel’s pro-European, socially conservative and liberal immigration policies. Friedrich Merz, a lawyer, fiscal conservative and throw-back to the Helmut Kohl era, is another option, and an old rival of Merkel’s who retreated from politics as her star rose. Some see health minister Jens Spahn, 38, as the party’s future – young, right-wing and gay, and with a much more nationalistic approach to immigration. Other names on the cards include Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen and Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble.
End of an era in the EU. Although Merkel’s exit likely won’t mean radical policy changes in Germany with regard to the EU, her lack of steadfast leadership could result in a vacuum. French President Emmanuel Macron — young and charismatic, popular internationally despite sliding ratings at home — may be just the leader to fill the gap. He’s shown himself to be deeply involved globally and even though his dreams of Eurozone reform may be shelved without Merkel as a partner, he should have more opportunities to lead the bloc in the future.
The center cannot hold. A dissatisfaction with a liberal or centrist status quo and suspicion of globalization’s benefits is not unique to Europe, let alone Germany, as seen in recent polls. Hungary, Poland, Italy and a number of other European countries witnessed electoral gains by the populist right. On the other side of the world, Brazil just elected far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro as president in a vote against the leftist and long-in-power Workers’ Party.
WHAT TO READ
The Long, Painful End of Angela Merkel, by Josef Joffe at Politico
“Merkel’s gambit may well give her three more years in office. She may be damaged and exhausted, but her strategic savvy and ruthlessness are not to be underestimated.”
Merkel’s Out. Now What? by Anna Sauerbrey in The New York Times
“The center-right’s problem goes beyond low poll numbers. Ms. Merkel has modernized the party and given up on most of its hard-held beliefs… As a result, her leadership has left her party without principles.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Angela Merkel Confirms This is Her Final Term as German Chancellor
“Merkel has previously said that the two jobs, Chancellor and party leader, should go together — but after 18 years heading the Christian Democrats the moment has come where she feels she can only do one of them.”
Watch on DW English on YouTube:
Merkel Fatigue? The View from ‘Mini-Deutschland’
“Hassloch is a mirror of Germany as a whole, and under the surface, all is not well.”
Watch on BBC Newsnight on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Don’t forget the left. The far-right AfD party, founded just five years ago and the third-largest party in parliament after it won Bundestag seats for the first time in last year’s federal elections, made progress in Germany’s Hesse state election. But the leftist Greens also made big gains at the expense of Merkel’s coalition. The Greens’ vote in the regional government doubled to 19.5 percent compared to AfD’s 12 percent — and polls show the party’s country-wide support has doubled in the last five years.