This Isn't the End of the Merkel Era
Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany for 12 years to the day, and many observers are predicting this anniversary could be her last. Murmurs about the “beginning of the end” of the German chancellor and a “world without Merkel” gained volume this week after Germany’s coalition talks to form its next government collapsed, following the unexpected exit by the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) from the negotiations. The crisis has led to speculation about whether this setback will lead to an unfavorable minority government or new elections—and whether Merkel can ultimately survive either. 'Germany Is Becoming More Normal' How Did German Politics Become So Fragmented? It comes just two months after Germany’s last general election, during which Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, with its Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party, failed to earn enough parliamentary seats to form a government on their own. Faced with the center-left Social Democrats’ (SPD) refusal to revive their “grand coalition” and her party’s own refusal to enter into coalition with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the chancellor was left with no other choice than to attempt to form a three-way coalition with two smaller parties, the FDP and the Greens. This so-called “Jamaica” coalition (which derives its name because the involved parties’ colors collectively correspond with the Jamaican flag) “could have gotten a lot done,” Merkel said in the days following FDP’s decision to leave the talks. When asked if she would resign, she noted that she had campaigned on the promise of serving Germany for another term and sees “no reason to go back on that promise.” When asked if she was afraid of what might happen if Germans returned to the polls for a repeat election, she said: “I’m not actually afraid of anything.”
Fear isn’t a feeling many would likely attribute to Mutti, or “Mother,” as Merkel is affectionately known. “She is a great survivor, she is a great problem solver,” Quentin Peel, an associate fellow with the Europe Program at Chatham House, and the Financial Times’s former chief correspondent in Berlin, told me. “She is not a great visionary, but she is very steady.” In fact, it was Merkel’s reputation as a “safe pair of hands” for Germany in times of global political instability that many cited when explaining her fourth-term electoral victory in the country’s September election. But with the makeup of the country’s next government suddenly in limbo, there is growing doubt whether Merkel’s hands are all that safe after all. The most alarmist of these doubts are overstated, according to Peel, who noted that while Merkel “is clearly wobbled and ... clearly weakened,” it’s still a far cry from her being replaced at the helm of German leadership—in part because she lacks a clear successor within her party, but also because she remains extremely popular among the German population. “She survived as her party’s champion as long as she was a winner,” Peel said, noting that more than half of Germans would prefer for Merkel to remain chancellor. “The moment she looks like no longer being a winner, the rebels will start to mutter. And that’s where you’re getting this muttering coming from, I think. But they’ve got no alternative candidate.”
Merkel’s confidence that she will not resign suggests she knows this. But it could also stem from the fact that she’s weathered crises far worse.