The end of the Merkel era is looming. An increasingly unpredictable campaign, a fight for the country’s political future. With the German elections barely a month away, our Berlin correspondent Thomas Sparrow explains why they are so relevant to the future of the country and the continent.
Exactly one month to go until the elections that the German daily ‘Bild’ described as the “most exciting thriller towards the chancellery of all time.”
Regardless of whether that statement is exaggerated or correct, the truth is that the federal elections on September 26 are not only particularly significant for Germany and Europe, but are also becoming increasingly difficult to predict.
The polls do not give a clear winning party and there are doubts about the three candidates who aspire to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in power since 2005 and who will retire after the elections.
Why are the upcoming elections in Germany so important?
They will mark the end of the Merkel era
The election will be the first since 2005 in which Angela Merkel will not participate, after she announced in 2018 that she would leave power after these elections.
Merkel has said that she does not want to take on any new positions and will leave the Chancellery in Berlin as Germany’s most popular politician, with 66 percent of favorability.
He is also retiring after having marked Europe’s destiny like no other head of government in the last 16 years. Merkel has negotiated with four French presidents, five British prime ministers, four US presidents, and eight Italian prime ministers, to name just a few.
Merkel has had to face enormous challenges. Not for nothing has the German leader been described as ‘the chancellor of crises’. With varying degrees of success, it faced a financial crisis, the eurozone crisis, the refugee crisis and, in its last political stretch, the coronavirus pandemic.
Although there is a certain political fatigue and also an interest in renewal, it is evident that the Germans recognize the political weight that Merkel has obtained, especially at the international level.
And partly because of that same political weight, it is evident that they are having difficulty choosing a possible successor.
They are increasingly unpredictable
The most recent polls they clearly reveal how polarized the political environment is in Germany.
The center-right bloc to which Merkel belongs (CDU / CSU), which started as the undisputed favorite a few months ago, has collapsed in the polls, largely thanks to the lapses of its candidate, Armin laschet.
Now he is on a par with the Social Democrats of the SPD, a party for which until a few weeks ago practically no experts would have bet and which was in a deep crisis.
But now, even in a poll this week, the SPD surpassed the conservative bloc, something that was not happening. 15 years ago.
The SPD, a center-left party, has benefited above all from the image of experience offered by its candidate, Olaf Scholz, the current vice chancellor and finance minister of Germany, but also of the problems of his opponents.
In particular, the leader of the Greens, Annalena baerbock, has been forced to answer questions about her resume and professional ethics, which has had a negative impact on Los Verdes in the polls.
The party, one of the political surprises of recent years, has failed to capitalize on the momentum it had in May, when it briefly led the polls and led analysts to wonder if Germany was close to a “green political future.”
This picture reflects a campaign that is totally open, with none of the main parties with a clear advantage.
And this, in turn, could have a considerable impact after the September 26 elections. After all, the political blocs must agree to form a governing coalition, an issue that could be particularly difficult this year given the great challenges facing the country.
National challenges are growing
The pandemic, which is currently in its fourth wave in Germany, with growing numbers of infected and a dynamic that worries political leaders heading into the autumn and winter months, is not the only concern.
It’s also about the dramatic floods July in the west of the country. These not only left great damage but also brought to the fore the political urgency of combating climate change.
And there is the Afghanistan crisis, a country in which Germany was militarily involved for 20 years, at a cost to taxpayers of about 12,500 million euros. Criticism for the handling of the withdrawal of troops has come hand in hand with a debate on the reception of Afghan migrants and with the concern that a migration crisis like the one of 2015 could be repeated.
These are only the most pressing issues that are currently marking the political debate in Germany and of which, without a doubt, the new leader of the country will have to take charge.
There are also long-term crises, such as the strained relationship with Russia or with China, problematic links with Turkey or fractures within the European Union itself, in particular with countries such as Poland or Hungary.
As Germany is the main economic power of the bloc, the election of its next chancellor is a matter that transcends the country’s borders.
That is why the September election, with the environment so polarized and with so many doubts about who will succeed Merkel, is so important: to a large extent, the direction that Europe takes in the coming years may also be at stake.