N. Peter Kramer’s Weekly Column
The end of the Merkel era makes many people nervous. Whenever a major crisis occurred at home or in the EU, Germans and other Europeans knew, that a sound, well-informed and skilfully negotiating Chancellor Angela Merkel would solve the problems as best as possible and would minimise the damage. That was the case with the euro crisis, the migration crisis and recently with the covid pandemic.
Now that Merkel is gone, the Germans have had to choose a new leader and that was difficult for them. Look at the election result: the CDU/CSU and the SDP both received a quarter of the vote. For a majority government each of them needs the liberal FDP AND the Greens, political opponents on many important subjects such as the environment, financial policies at home and in the EU, and energy.
Germany faces enormous challenges in the coming years: renewal of the dilapidated infrastructure is an absolute priority, highways and bridges are in urgent need of renovation or replacement. The same for the sputtering digital infrastructure of the country. In addition there are the high costs of greening the energy supply and industry. The question is to what extent the next coalition will be allowed to go into debt for this. Raising national debt is not a real German hobby.
The dilemmas are also big in terms of foreign policy. How should export-orientated Germany relate to a China that is increasingly assertive on the world stage? What does the future government want: to export Mercedes or to protect human rights? And closer to home, will the next Chancellor be strong enough to neutralise the ambitions of French President Emmanuel Macron, busy with his re-election campaign.
In other words, the next Chancellor will have to be even better than Merkel, who during her last years had lost some of her strength and sharpness, particularly in her confrontations with Macron. Of course, with her great qualities she solved many major problems, but issues which she considered too thorny were silently passed on to her successor and future generations.