(Photo: Markus HEINE / AFP)
BY MINOAS VITALIS, Europe Editor
At what many say is a critical juncture for our continent, the so-called Queen of Europe has been dealt a heavy blow. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in the position for 13 years, earlier this week announced that she will not put herself forward for the CDU presidency at the party congress this December, nor will she seek a new term at the next federal election in 2021. Her decisions point to a loss of political power.
The announcements happened a day after her party was defeated in state elections in Hesse where its worst performance in 50 years was recorded, and in Bavaria, where its sister party, the Christian Social Union, also suffered a trouncing.
No one knows if she will manage to stay on as Chancellor until the end of her term, largely because that depends on who is going to succeed her as CDU chair in December. After the party conference, Merkel will be under heavy pressure to allow the new chair to build a strong electoral profile before 2021 from the Federal Chancellery building in Berlin.
The race to find her successor has started with 3 hats already in the ring. The first potential successor is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the current party Secretary-General who is often viewed as her chosen heir, would not create her any problems. The others being Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is strongly opposed to Merkel’s refugee policy, and Friedrich Merz, an old bitter rival of the Chancellor. Both of them could make her position untenable and force her to resign if they are elected as the next CDU chair.
Merkel for many has been a symbol of steadiness and continuity, and for others the cause of much chaos across Europe. She undoubtedly, however, has dominated German and by extension European politics for the past 13 years. Thus what is her legacy?
Merkel has always been principled and pragmatic. She guided her country through the 2008 financial crash, the Arab Spring, Russia’s aggression and Europe’s migration crisis, and her eventual departure from the Chancellery will leave a chasm to be filled. She will be remembered for her bold decision in 2015 to embrace up to a million refugees fleeing humanitarian disaster in the Middle East and Africa into Europe. While this decision should be applauded for its humanitarianism, some view it as the number one decision that not only divided Germany but Europe as well, and propelled anti-immigrant parties across the continent to power.
To conclude, Merkel’s incoming departure from power, the Brexit negotiations, the underwhelming performance of President Macron, and the political developments in Italy demonstrate the failure of European leaders to deal with populism. As a consequence, leaving Europe without a captain or direction in the middle of a storm.