Angela Merkel To Seek Fourth Term As German Chancellor
Political change coming to Germany? Or more of the same.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will seek a fourth term in that country’s elections next year:
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, under siege domestically but widely seen as a pillar of Western liberalism, announced on Sunday that she will seek a fourth term next year.
Slightly hoarse but clearly determined after consulting leaders of her conservative Christian Democratic party, Ms. Merkel said the decision to seek a fourth term was “anything but trivial,” for her country, for her party and for herself.
A scientist with a low-key manner, Ms. Merkel rejected the idea that, after the election of Donald J. Trump as president in the United States, she had a lone role in keeping Western liberalism alive. “That is grotesque, even almost absurd,” she told reporters.
But she also said that the campaign ahead of the German elections in fall 2017 would be unlike any other she has fought in an increasingly polarized country. She faces stronger challenges on the right and left, while the war in Syria, the arrival of large numbers of migrants and the continuing euro crisis tear at Germany and place new demands on its people.
Since the election in the United States, speculation had mounted that Ms. Merkel would bow to pressure to run again and uphold liberal values in a world transformed by Mr. Trump’s victory and Britain’s vote last summer to leave the European Union.
Ms. Merkel, 62, has served 11 years as chancellor. She is the first woman and the first person raised in Communist East Germany to hold the post.
Since coming to power in 2005, Ms. Merkel has gradually acquired a political stature commensurate with the power of her country, Europe’s largest economy and its most populous nation, with about 81 million inhabitants.
But her image as the cautious caretaker of her country’s interests has suffered over the past year, after she opened Germany to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, many of them Muslim refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East and Africa.
The prospect of integrating almost 1 million newcomers into Germany has weakened Ms. Merkel’s standing at home, despite garnering some praise, particularly from President Obama.
Visiting Berlin last week, Mr. Obama lavished compliments on his longest-standing ally in his eight years in office, saying that if he were German, he would vote for her.
Ms. Merkel responded to the election of Mr. Trump with a robust appeal for him to follow Western values and respect human dignity. This, she said, was the basis of any close cooperation.
Even as commentators and leaders outside Germany invoked her stature, Ms. Merkel has been eager not to hog the limelight.
“One person alone can never solve everything,” she said on Friday at a news conference with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain. “We are strong only together. In that, I want to do what my duty is as chancellor.”
In the days before her party leadership met on Sunday, several Christian Democrats said that the next parliamentary elections would be difficult to win with Ms. Merkel, but impossible to win without her.
As she entered the atrium of her party headquarters on Sunday, she was applauded by about two dozen people on a second-floor balcony.
While Ms. Merkel mentioned several times that her ability to continue would be contingent on good health, she showed little weariness and gradually became almost feisty as she outlined the challenges to German industry and citizens in the 21st century.
Germans should stick to their tried and tested concept of “social market economy,” a blend of welfare state and capitalism, as they navigate this new world, Ms. Merkel said.
But she acknowledged that even in this conservative and comparatively wealthy country, politics has been thrown into turmoil by the rise of the populist, right-wing Alternative for Germany party.
It is now in 10 of the country’s 16 state Parliaments and seems certain to win seats in the federal Parliament next year. That would scramble conventional coalition building, since no mainstream party has been willing to govern with the populists.
Frauke Petry, one of the leaders of Alternative for Germany, criticized the idea of Ms. Merkel’s gaining another four years in office. “Germany cannot afford another term for Angela Merkel,” Ms. Petry wrote on Twitter.
I am hardly expert enough in German politics to be able to say one way or the other which way the political winds are blowing there, or which way they might be blowing by the time elections are held next year. As noted, though, it seems clear that the issues surrounding the admission of Syrian refugees and other issues involving Germany immigration policies are likely to play a significant role, just as they have in recent elections and votes in other parts of Europe and, of course here in the United States. For other reasons, it’s also likely that the situation in Eastern Europe, and specifically Russia’s continued interventions in Ukraine and what the resulting sanctions have meant for the German economy. As it stands, though, it does appear that Merkel’s immigration policies at least have generally strong political support even among the major opposition parties. The question will be whether or not these events will tend to help the parties have sprung up on the right or not. Given how Germany’s system works, and the political coalitions generally necessary for either of the major party’s to form a majority government make it unlikely that a relatively new minor party can gain sufficient support to become a majority or near-majority. However, depending on the outcome of the election, Merkel or the opposition could be forced to form a coalition with any number of smaller parties and to form a coalition that leads to changes in policy as a result. Additional political power for a party on the right, of course, would mean a rightward shift in German politics that could place limits on the willingness of Berlin to accept immigrants much in the way that the apparent success of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, along with events such as the terror attacks that occurred in 2015, has moved French politicians to the right on immigration and related issues.
Indeed, next year could be a pivotal year for European politics as a whole:
Next month, Italy votes on constitutional reforms that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi considers crucial to his country’s modernity. Austria will choose a president in an election plagued by delays, and may see the first far-right politician elected as head of state in modern Europe.
The Netherlands, France and Germany all hold pivotal elections next year, with the ballot in France being closely watched as a bellwether for the strength of populism as embodied by the National Front of Marine Le Pen.
Speaking in Berlin last week, Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France predicted that “Europe can die” as a result of the populist wave and the economic and political dissonance in the 28-nation European Union.
This will happen at the same time that Britain begins proceeding with the Brexit procedure that could itself end up creating political tensions that lead to new and early elections in the United Kingdom as well. What this means, of course, is that there could be significant political changes in Europe over the next eighteen months or so. Whether it is change for the good or not, of course, is another question.