Angela Merkel announced on October 29 that she would make a two-stage exit from the political scene. She is first giving up her chairmanship of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which will select a new leader at its party congress on December 7-8. She is to step down as chancellor next, but not before the end of her fourth term in the fall of 2021. Her plan is characteristically shrewd. It may not work.
The Leaderin’s hoped-for successor is a steadfast Merkel loyalist Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU’s secretary-general. The 56-year-old former Saarland prime minister managed Merkel’s 2017 election campaign and exudes about the same level of charisma as her mentor. A staunch CDU establishmentarian (which translates into someone to the left of Bernie Sanders), she has supported Merkel’s open-door immigration policy ever since the migrant tsunami of 2015. Her social program is indistinguishable from that of Merkel’s social-democratic coalition partners (SPD). Her selection would ensure further realignment of German politics, to the likely benefit of the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD).
The initial challenge from what passes for the Right inside the CDU came in the person of Jens Spahn, health minister critical of Merkel’s policies. On all really important issues Spahn is eminently mainstream, however. He wants a European Union “with strong institutions . . . with the surrender of national sovereignty in areas where we are stronger together, but as a network of sovereign nation states.” Immigration “is an issue that in the eyes of many voters has not been ended or solved,” he says, but offers no solution and insists that “there can never be cooperation with left- and right-wing parties that fuel anti-American resentment, adore Russian autocrats, who are undermining European unification . . . ” To Spahn, Austria’s ruling coalition – which includes the Freedom Party (FPÖ)—should be a “warning, not a role model.”
In a two-way contest Kramp-Karrenbauer would easily win. Enter Friedrich Merz, ex-CDU/CSU group parliamentary leader who retreated to the back benches in 2005 after falling out with Merkel; he retired from the Bundestag four years later. His subsequent business career has not prevented Merz from continuing to be an active party member closely connected with Bundestag president and former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Merz is more socially conservative and economically libertarian than Merkel and the CDU apparat. He senses, quite correctly, that the party’s traditional burgher base wants a return to the more genuinely “center-right” position.
The result is extremely unsettling for Merkel and her party establishment. A recent Spiegel Online poll indicated that over a third of voters (34 percent) favoured Merz as party leader, way ahead of Kramp-Karrenbauer at 19 percent, with Spahn trailing far behind at 6 percent. On current form, enjoying the support of the party apparatus and the quiet endorsement of an increasingly unpopular Merkel may not help Kramp-Karrenbauer. The CDU rank-and-file are ready for a change of direction which is the exact opposite of her package. After recent heavy setbacks in Bavaria and Hesse, and with poll ratings stubbornly below 30%, the promise of continuity is no longer alluring. Merz’s victory in the race for party leadership—coupled with likely CDU defeats (and possible rout of its SPD coalition partners) in coming state elections in the AfD-friendly ex-GDR—could bring the collapse of Merkel’s government as early as next spring.
Over the past week dozens of scribes have dwelt on the subject of “Merkel’s Legacy” in various languages, with some hosannas to her stalwart leadership sounding like obituaries. To wit, the Washington Post’s Griff Witte described her as a “vigorous defender of the liberal international order . . . a counterweight to Trump-style nationalism—one with the stature to defend free trade, multilateral institutions and the rule of law amid doubts over whether those ideals still matter in Washington.” American Trump-haters hailed her as the actual “leader of the free world.” Sweden’s former prime and foreign minister Carl Bildt described her as “a towering personality in the complicated politics of European integration . . . [who] always listens carefully to the concerns and arguments of others, dissects the facts of any given situation, and then patiently explores the possible ways of moving forward.”
This is nonsense. Merkel refused to listen, carefully or otherwise, to the concerns and arguments of those who were alarmed—and eventually horrified—by her decision to allow over a million mostly undocumented and unemployable, often criminally-minded Muslim men from the Greater Middle East into Germany in 2015. Their presence has drastically reduced the quality of life of millions of Germans who had never been asked whether they supported the influx, and who were offended by Merkel’s smug reply, Wir schaffen das!
For reasons that have never been rationally explained, to this day Merkel continues to pursue a two-track policy: to keep Germany’s borders open to migrants (“we can stand by our values”), and to resettle them through a system of EU-imposed mandatory quotas (“I am fighting for this approach”). To this day, Merkel seeks to present Hungary, Poland and other resisters with two faits accomplis: that Germany can accept any numbers of migrants, and that Germany can and should use her power to force the rest of Europe to share the consequences, while pontificating about “European unity.” As I wrote here three years ago, her calls for a ‘joint European solution’ are nothing but demands for the rest of Europe to be obedient, to say Jawohl! and to facilitate the creation of Sharia-based no-go areas in Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava and Budapest:
Merkel’s motives for pursuing a demonstrably insane course remain mysterious; but whether she is delusional, or ridden by an excessively internalized post-1945 German sense of guilt, is immaterial. She and the unelected mandarins in Brussels are trying to terrorize hundreds of millions of Europeans into quietly accepting their demographic and cultural demise.
Regardless of whether she finally leaves the stage in three months or three years, the consequences of Angela Merkel for Germany’s politics seem clear. The late Helmut Kohl’s “little girl” has pushed the CDU far to the left—primarily on immigration, but also on a host of social and cultural issues such as ending the draft, legalizing same-sex marriage, pushing for gender and sexual orientation quotas, or terminating nuclear power generation. By doing so, she has vacated the center-right space consciously created by Konrad Adenauer in the 1950’s and cultivated by his successors. By imposing her “stalwart leadership” on a nation thoroughly denazified but not yet completely de-Germanized, Merkel has made possible the emergence of a major political force to the right of the CDU.
This would have been unimaginable before Merkel assumed the party leadership in April 2000. She has thus cleared the way for the AfD, which is the first authentically opposition party since the Federal Republic came into being in 1949. It now represents millions of Germans who do not subscribe to the global list of liberal orthodoxies, who who no longer want to be told how to think (and not to think) about their culture, identity, history, ancestors . . .
In short, by trying to force Germany into the sameness of multicultural, postnational, genderless postmodernia, Angela Merkel has contributed to the long-overdue diversification of Germany’s political arena and public discourse. That is the only positive aspect of her flawed legacy.