An end of an era: after sixteen years Germany will have a new chancellor
Updated: Sep 26, 2021
For the first time since 2005, Angela Merkel is not re-running for any political position
by: Isti Miskolczy
Eligible German citizens will have the chance to cast their votes tomorrow, the 26th of September, in what happens to be the 20th parliamentary elections of the country. Their decision could significantly impact the future of not just their own country but also that of the European Union since current chancellor Angela Merkel decided not to seek re-election. Ms Merkel announced her intention of not running for a fifth term in late 2018, following her party’s loss in the state elections in Hesse earlier that year.
As the freshly elected parliament chooses the new chancellor, Merkel’s successor will either need their party to secure a simple majority in the parliament or - and what is more likely - engage in negotiations on a possible coalition. Currently, the CDU-CSU (the Christian Democratic Union and its equivalent in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union) are governing in a coalition with the SPD (Social Democrats) after what happened to be an almost half-a-year-long negotiation following the latest elections in 2017. However, this time experts do not rule out a possible CDU-CSU-Greens coalition either.
Ms Merkel would still resume her position as an ‘interim chancellor’ after the elections tomorrow, nevertheless, when the coalition negotiations are over, and the Bundestag elects the new chancellor, she will resign from politics.
(The German flag in front of the Reichstag. Photo courtesy of Kevin Woblick via Unsplash)
Who are Merkel's possible successors?
Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU): The current minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, who was elected as leader of the CDU in early 2021 following Merkel’s announcement of not seeking re-election as head of the party either. Mr Laschet’s key campaign points include creating a national security council, raising the child allowance, making childcare costs and farmers’ expenses for climate protection tax-deductible, and no tax rises for small and medium-sized businesses. Many would see Mr Laschet as the natural successor of Angela Merkel; however, recent polls indicated a decrease in his support.
Olaf Scholz (SPD): Social Democrat Olaf Scholz has been the Vice-Chancellor of Germany and the Federal Minister of Finance since the latest election. The SPD manifesto includes pledges, among others, on a more equitable tax system (increasing taxes for the wealthy), using only renewable sources of energy for electricity by 2040, and increasing state investments in sustainable development. At the very finish of the campaign, polls favour Mr Scholz’s party to receive most of the votes. However, it appears implausible that the SPD could form a majority government alone. Instead, an SPD-led coalition is more probable if the CDU’s support is really in decline.
Annalena Baerbock (Greens): Even though around 30% of the Bundestag is made up of women, Ms Baerbock is still only the second woman ever to be nominated as a chancellor candidate on behalf of a major party. She has been the co-leader of the Greens since 2018, which is committed to tackling climate change through various means, including cutting greenhouse gases and accelerating energy transition to renewables. In the case of the Greens being involved in coalition discussions, however, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany could be a problem. The Greens are opposing the gas pipeline, whereas the CDU and Merkel are backing diversifying Germany’s natural energy sources through the construction of Nord Stream 2.
Christian Lindner (FDP): Christian Lindner’s The Free Democratic Party (FDP) is often considered the most ‘liberal’ party among all. It even served as the CDU/CSU’s coalition partner between 2009 and 2013 and - although less supported since - still serve as a coalition partner of Laschet’s party in North Rhine-Westphalia, where Mr Laschet of the DCU/CSU is currently minister-president. In the event of the CDU/CSU securing the highest share of the votes and the FDP managing to enhance its popularity, it could be important in the coalition negotiations as well.
Aside from these four candidates with the most considerable popularity, the far-right nationalist AfD (Alternative for Germany) and the leftist Die Linke (The Left) and their respective candidates could also impact the share of the votes by taking away votes from the four major parties.
What do the polls say?
Based on the summary of the latest polls, the SPD, closely followed by the CDU/CSU, will have the most chance of coming out of the negotiations as victors again, however, the 5-6% strengthening of the SPD could mean that, in the end, it will give the next chancellor of the country and not the CDU. The growing popularity of the Greens and the 10-13% of the FDP, however, means that at least one of them might be needed for a government majority as well since the SPD-CDU/CSU support altogether barely surpasses 50%.
Projected for 2021
All in all, the decision on the new chancellor will come down to the exact election results and the members of the Bundestag, who are elected based on a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system. This means that 50% of the members are elected in individual constituencies on a first-past-the-post basis and the other half of MPs come from the party lists based on their party’s vote share.
An end of an era
Regardless of the exact outcome of the elections tomorrow, an era will certainly end with Angela Merkel not re-running after 16 years. Surviving the global financial crisis of 2008, the refugee crisis of 2015, and the first part of the coronavirus crisis in 2021 and still enjoying popularity as well as managing to stay in power was truly exceptional, and all comes down to the newly invented political term ‘Merkelism’ which sums up Merkel’s main political agenda: compromising.
"Angela Merkel im Christlichen Gästezentrum Schönblick" by Medienmagazin pro is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
One could see the German Chancellor compromising, for instance, with Russia (building the Nord Stream 2) and often being the primary mediator between not just the EU and Hungary but also the US and China.
She was even compromising in her resignation - which she announced in 2018, three years before the end of her term time. With that, she not just avoided a possible vote of no confidence as a CDU/CSU leader following the coalition’s losses in the local elections but also ensured the possibility of new chancellor candidates to emerge and build themselves up from the party.
Merkel also boosted the German economy in her era. The Financial Times' collection of economic data shows that the country’s real GDP per capita, in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) has grown one of the fastest within the world, especially after the 2008 financial crisis. Arguably, one of the key reasons for this growth has been the substantial increase in employment, including that of women.
Nonetheless, the German public investment (around 3% of their GDP) was and still is smaller than that of some other G7 countries (around 4% for Japan and France, for example). Also, when it comes to a green and digital economy, the state has still much to achieve. Among others, these could define the country’s future under a new chancellor.