BERLIN – The Germans will vote on a new government on September 26 and for the first time since 2005 Angela Merkel is not running. After nearly 16 years in power, Merkel, 67, will hand over control of Europe’s largest economy to a new chancellor.
The race for the Chancellery is wide open and in the wake of Brexit and the election of President Biden in the United States, the world will be watching in which direction the Germans take their country.
What’s at stake?
Getting Germany out of the coronavirus pandemic, with a focus on reviving the economy, remains a most urgent domestic problem. Climate policies, which became more urgent after the recent floods, and the greening of the country’s industrial sector are also on the minds of voters. And digitization and the guarantee of equality and social security were also featured in the debates.
Whoever takes power will decide how much to build on Merkel’s policies and how much to put the country on a new course. If his conservative party remains in power, there will likely be more consistency than if the Social Democrats returned to power or the Green environmentalists make history and take the chancellery for the first time.
On the foreign policy front, both conservatives and social democrats would largely seek the continuity of Germany’s burgeoning trade with China and its positioning vis-à-vis Russia. This includes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which was completed in early September. German authorities now have four months to approve the pipeline before it can begin transporting natural gas directly to Germany from Russia, bypassing Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe. The Greens are against the pipeline.
All political parties – with the exception of the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD – agree that Germany is a firm member of the European Union. The Greens are pushing for a more ambitious relaunch of the European project, with harsher actions against Hungary and other members who do not respect democratic principles.
For years, Germany’s approach to China has been “change through trade,” but China’s crackdown on dissent within the country and flexing its muscles. abroad have questioned this strategy. The United States has pressured its reluctant allies to take a tougher line on China, but Germany led by Merkel has been reluctant to deliver on its commitments, and that shouldn’t change under a government led by his party or the Social Democrats.
Despite recent upheavals in Afghanistan, the anti-immigrant AfD has so far been unable to capitalize on fears surrounding migration, as it did four years ago, when it won. for the first time seats in the Bundestag, the German Parliament. The party got a poll of around 11% and analysts say it is weakened by deep internal divisions and the lack of a galvanizing issue.
Who will be chancellor?
Polls indicate that, as usual, no party will win a majority of seats in parliament, so whoever wins the most seats would be the first to form a coalition government and choose a chancellor.
Each party nominates its candidate for chancellor before the start of the campaign, although the public is more focused on candidates from the main parties who have a realistic chance of winning.
Traditionally, these have been center-right Christian Democrats (Ms. Merkel’s party) and center-left Social Democrats. But for the first time, the green candidate for the Greens is seen as having a real blow to the chancellery.
Here are the main candidates for the post of chancellor:
The Greens: Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of the Greens since 2018, is seen as more pragmatic than many in her party, which has its roots in the environmental and student protest movements of the previous century. At 40, she is the youngest candidate, the only woman, and the only one not to have previously held an elective mandate.
After a good start, Ms Baerbock’s popularity suffered from scandals surrounding a book she published and errors in her resume.
The Social Democrats: Olaf Scholz, of the Social Democrats, German finance minister and vice-chancellor since 2018, is considered the most experienced of the three, and he has seen his popularity increase in recent weeks. He has years of state-level experience in Hamburg and was Minister of Labor in a previous government under Ms Merkel. Since the end of August, Mr. Scholz has capitalized on his closeness to the Chancellor, convincing voters that despite their different parties, he is the choice to provide the firm hand that the Germans dream of. His party overtook the Tories in the polls in early September and has remained in the lead ever since, giving it a good chance of forming the next German government.
The other parties vying for seats in Parliament are the Far Left Party, the AfD and the free market democrats, who hope to play a role in a future government coalition. Dozens of small parties, from the anarchist Pogo Party to the Animal Welfare Party and free voters, are also on the ballot, but are unlikely to cross the 5% hurdle needed to be represented in the Bundestag.
Why is Germany important?
Within the European Union, Germany is often seen as a de facto leader. It has both the largest economy and the largest population and, along with France, is widely viewed as a driver of policy and decision-making.
Under Merkel, who became one of the top leaders of the 27-member bloc, that influence grew further, although she failed to build consensus among member states on refugee policy. and on preventing the democratic retreat of Hungary and Poland.
Ms Merkel also used her country’s weight as the world’s fourth-largest economy and a member of the Group of 7 industrialized countries to defend global climate policy and push for tough sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea. His successor will inherit thorny questions of how to handle an increasingly powerful China and a push from some within Germany and the EU who are ready to re-establish trade with Moscow. The central relationship with the United States is only beginning to gain a foothold after four destabilizing years of the Trump administration.
During Merkel’s four terms, the nation of 83 million people underwent a generational shift, becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, but also aging significantly – more than half of all voters eligible are 50 years or older. Social norms have become more liberal, with a legal right to same-sex marriage and a non-binary gender option on official documents. But a resurgence of the far right and a breakdown in political discourse at the local level threatened the cohesion of the country.
What role will Chancellor Merkel play?
Until a new government can be formed, a process that can take weeks to months, Merkel will remain in office as interim head of government. The formation of the government will depend on how the vote falls and how difficult it is for the winning party to come to an agreement with smaller supporters to form a government.
The Chancellor stepped down from her party leadership in December 2018, but remained as head of government until after the election, a position that left her a lame duck, making her decision-making more difficult during the election. second year of the pandemic. She had promised to stay out of the election campaign, but has since made several remarks aimed at bolstering Mr Laschet’s waning support.