Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

【#554(Special)】Twilight of Merkel

Masamori Sase / 2018.11.07 (Wed)

November 5, 2018

     Germany plunged into a political turmoil when the combined share of the votes for the grand coalition parties --- the Christian Democratic/Social Union (CDU/CSU) and German Social Democrats (SPD) --- dropped to 53.4% in the elections of the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, in September 2017. In October 2018, the ruling coalition was defeated in Bavaria and Hesse state parliament elections as well. In response, Angela Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, said she would step down as CDU leader in December when the party will choose new leader. She also said she would remain chancellor during her current term lasting until 2021 but would not stand for re-election as chancellor then.

A leading successor candidate is pro-EU
     Merkel has been known as an ardent promoter of European integration, succeeding the tradition of former Chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl who had been the first CDU leader and the sixth, respectively. In the future, French President Emmanuel Macron will play Merkel’s role in promoting the integration. He has praised Merkel as a politician who has never forgotten the value of Europe.
     While British Prime Minister Theresa May has been struggling to maintain good relationship with the European Union even after the Brexit, Merkel has resented British hardliners advocating the secession of Britain’s relationship with the EU and supported May’s approach.
     Friedrich Merz, seen as the leading candidate for Merkel’s successor as CDU leader, has also been reputed as pro-EU similar to Merkel by Guenther Oettinger, a German member of the European Commission, the EU’s executive organ. Merz, a former member of the Bundestag, has to regain a Bundestag seat to become chancellor. If Merz succeeds Merkel, Germany’s attitude on the EU may remain unchanged.

Destabilizing factor: right-wing populist party
     Whoever the German chancellor is, there is a destabilizing factor. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing populist party that became the third largest party in the Bundestag and won seats in Bavarian and Hesse state parliaments for the first time as well, is advocating hardline nativist slogans and displaying a non-conciliatory attitude towards the EU.
     In 2016, more than 740,000 people applied for refugee status in Germany, providing the AfD with an excuse to develop an anti-refugee campaign. Germany turned out to have accepted more than half of 1.26 million people who applied for the refugee status in the EU in the year.
     The AfD at its convention in July adopted a resolution urging Merkel to get out. Then, AfD leader Alexander Gauland hurled abuse at Merkel. In a poll published by German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle on October 11, the popularity rating fell to 26% for the CDU/CSU and 15% for the SPD, against 17% for the Green Party, a leftist environmentalist group, and 16% for the AfD.
     It was the first time since the end of World War II that voters were divided over favorite political parties in Germany. In the poll, 56% of respondents held Chancellor Merkel responsible for such political plight, followed 31% for CSU leader Horst Seehofer. Voters are cold on Merkel who has served as chancellor for as long as 13 years, indicating “Twilight of a Queen.”

Masamori Sase is Professor Emeritus at the National Defense Academy. He specializes in international politics in Europe.