Opinion

Challenge to fill Merkel’s boots

Cordelia Friesendorf | Updated on February 15, 2021

Three key hopefuls must redefine prosperity, reform the EU

Close to two decades of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship created many economic wins for the German electorate and positioned her internationally as an influential Western leader who rendered a new sheen to brand ‘Made in Germany’ and pushed Europe to the forefront in the face of Brexit and Trumpian US. The end of her era of political chivalry and economic stability has Germans clamouring to find the right chancellor who would redefine prosperity, reform the EU and subsequently address social welfare.

Leading contestants are from the current coalition government comprising 59-year-old Armin Laschet of Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who is Merkel’s successor in party leadership, and 62-year-old Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats (SPD), who is Federal finance minister and Merkel’s valued colleague.

An interesting turn of the election could come from the Green Party lead by 40-year-old Anna-Lena Baerbock and 51-year-old Robert Habeck. Both enjoy favourable poll rankings as they bring an array of refreshing policy ideas that commit to solve problems of urbanisation, climate change mitigation, education infrastructure and gender inequality. These three parties, irrespective of their post-election configuration, will determine the tempo of Germany’s progress in trade, sustainability and innovation. These three contenders will also influence EU governance and international treaties significantly.

Popular in Germany?

Merkel’s stable chancellorship might lead one to believe that she is popular in Germany. On the contrary, the electorate is eager for a replacement for her. Her refugee policies created an exodus of her own party, CDU, members to form the Far-right AFD, which is now a part of the Opposition in Parliament. Party remnants will back her successor, Armin Laschet — Merkel loyalist, devoted Catholic and a cooperative party colleague — conditional on the promise of steering away from Merkel’s policies after winning the election.

While Laschet is a versatile politician, having held key positions in German and EU parliaments, cabinet ministry and minister presidency, he may not be able to manage that kind of political adhesiveness in operations based on a union of beliefs that will elevate him to an inimitable party leadership akin to Merkel.

For these reasons, Olaf Scholz faces equal prospects of winning, even though petty politics and a lack of oversight fragments his party SPD, yet they do not suffer the deeper ideological divide that plagues the CDU. Being a member of the coalition government, SPD politicians at all levels have benefited from Merkel’s mentoring and benchmarking that they may end up doing the job better.

As the US under Joe Biden sets the global tone of liberal socialism, prioritising innovation, fiscal management and ecological impact, the new German Chancellor should fall in line with ease. Scholz, in partnership with the Greens, can match common international goals with the domestic agenda and deliver authentically, which is a significant factor that determines electability in Germany.

All contestants value Merkel’s leadership and certainly nurse the urge to emulate her political aptitude that sums up to a sound knowledge of constitutional and parliamentary working, a strong appreciation of democratic methods, stamina for managing the administrative juggernaut, and the knack of building long-lasting partnerships.

Contestants face common woes of an ageing male electorate, widespread conspiracy mentality, sympathy for right-wing extremism, economic stagnation, a growing debt burden and a highly competitive global economy dominated by China.

Pandemic-related lockdown has led to a decline in public trust. It uncovered infrastructure bottlenecks that long remained unaddressed by government and industries such as inadequacies in the digital infrastructure that hindered competent work from home or home schooling.

As an influential leader, Germany’s chancellor faces high expectations to commit to equity in EU economic prosperity and not just foot insolvency bills when member nations’ treasuries collapse. Innovative and sustainability oriented reforms are immediate needs to kick-start pandemic-hit EU countries.

Germany’s new chancellor will have much on her table and may have to strike bilateral treaties with non-EU nations in areas that serve to meet the domestic needs of innovation, infrastructure and sustainable solutions.

The writer is Professor of Economics and Finance, International School of Management GmbH

Published on February 15, 2021

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