1. How has the political landscape changed?
While the Merkels bloc was still leading the polls at the end of March, it had collapsed by around 10 percentage points since early February and the Greens were closing the gap. It was the most unpredictable German election in decades, with several different coalitions possible after the September 26 vote.
2. Who will his party choose to run for chancellor?
Armin Laschet, who heads the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, rose to pole after winning the leadership of the center-right Christian Democratic Union from Merkels on January 16. As the candidate who most closely resembled him in politics and style, he beat two rivals. While he would normally be the conservative bloc’s candidate for election, Markus Soeder, leader of the sister party of the Christian Social Union of CDUs in Bavaria, is more popular and can also firmly claim his candidacy for the alliance. Laschet said a decision would be made by the end of May, but pressure is mounting to speed up the process.
The CDU had its worst results since World War II in state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate on March 14, weakening Laschet. He tried to differentiate himself from Merkel, with the two clashing over how to deal with the pandemic. Merkel criticized him and other regional leaders for not enforcing Covid-19 restrictions strictly enough, while warning the chancellor not to impose control over pandemic policy. The decision as to who will run rests with Laschet and Soeder, and while it needs the approval of the leadership committees of their two parties, it is nothing more than a formality.
4. What about the opposition?
The Greens have gone mainstream under the leadership of co-leaders Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock, although they have yet to decide which of them will be their candidate for chancellor. They never led a national government, but were coalition partners with the Social Democrats between 1998 and 2005 and ruled the state of Baden-Württemberg for almost a decade. They are likely to be kingmakers, either by forming a majority with the CDU / CSU, or by leading a three-way rapprochement with the SPD and either the Left Party or the Free Liberal Democrats. The SPD, the CDU’s main rival for years, has been hurt by coalitions with Merkel and could support the Greens if the parties are successful. SPD candidate Finance Minister Olaf Scholz would need his party to overtake the Greens and potentially gain support from the left to become chancellor.
5. What do the polls show?
According to a March 31 Forsa poll for broadcaster RTL, support for the Merkels bloc, which climbed to 40% in spring 2020, had fallen to just 27%. The Greens were in second place with 23%, the highest for more than a year, while the Social Democrats, the junior partners of the Merkels government, were third at 15%. Soeder still had the best score after Merkel with 52 points, followed by Habeck on 47, Baerbock on 45 and Scholz on 44. Laschet scored only 37.
6. What are the challenges for the next government?
Tackling the pandemic: defeating Covid-19 and overseeing Germany’s economic recovery will be the top priority. Merkels’ successor will also have to strengthen German confidence in the EU’s ability to deliver, after complaints about his responsibility for the delays in vaccine deployment.
Leading the EU: French President Emmanuel Macron seeks to fill the leadership vacuum Merkel leaves behind. His successor will have to grapple with disputes over democratic standards in Poland and Hungary and high debt levels in southern Europe, especially Italy, while reinforcing the message to follow the UK’s lead. and leaving the EU is not a solution.
Reconnect with the United States: Germany is the Americas’ biggest and richest ally in Europe, but has come under heavy criticism during Donald Trump’s presidency. Joe Biden will have the chance to mend the relationship with Merkels’ successor.
Manage relations with Russia and China: Germany has kept diplomatic channels open to Moscow and Beijing at a time when allies such as the United States and the United Kingdom have been more confrontational.
Strengthening NATO: Macron said the alliance succumbs to brain death in 2019 and that Germany has a central role to play in giving it a sense of direction and ensuring it is properly funded adequate.
Deal with Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has broadened his country’s regional footprint and claimed energy and territorial interests in the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea, escalating tensions with Greece and Cyprus.
7. What does this mean for Europe?
During Germany’s 2020 EU presidency, Merkel helped negotiate a deal on the bloc’s pandemic relief fund, which started on jointly backed debt. Under Merkel, Germany’s fiscal discipline created friction with other EU countries, most notably Greece during the financial crisis, but was supposed to set an example. Although these constraints were removed during the pandemic, Merkel still sees Germany as a role model. The amount of debt Germany needs to offset the virus will be a major theme of the campaign.
8. How big is the immigration problem?
Much of Merkels’ recent problems stemmed from his decision not to close the German border to hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2015 and 2016. In the 2017 federal election, his bloc won its lowest share of the vote since 1949 The Anti-Immigration Alternative for Germany, or AfD, garnered 12.6 percent of the vote, making it the first far-right party since 1953 to win seats in the lower house, the Bundestag. Since then, the pandemic has pushed immigration down the agenda and the AfD has seen its support dwindle.
9. What about climate change?
Merkel organized Germany’s exit from nuclear power after the Fukushima reactor disaster in Japan in 2011, and Germany still strongly supports environmental action. As the EU seeks to build momentum behind its own Green Deal, the elements are there for a change in Germany’s energy infrastructure and the industrial model it powers.
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