German political life may be set for some upheaval with the impending retirement of Angela Merkel. She has served as Chancellor since 2005 as a member of the country’s conservative Christian Democratic Union. Conservatives have hoped that her successor in that party would maintain consistency in the German government, but it now appears that a move leftward in national politics is more likely.
The German right could be headed for a historic loss in the national elections set for September 26 due to economic woes, lingering COVID-19 pandemic gaffes, and a slate of weak candidates.
A conservative German strategist told the Wall Street Journal that it is difficult to campaign for change or “attack the deficiencies” of government when you have held power for 16 straight years. The same problem makes the task for the left like “shooting fish in a barrel.”
Armin Laschet is the leading conservative candidate and has run what most see as a weak campaign overall. In polling, most Germans say that they do not believe Laschet has the leadership ability to handle the largest perceived problems, including climate change and a lagging economy.
Laschet was seen as a bumbling representative by Germans when he called for a quick reopening of the economy during the pandemic, a move that opposed Merkel’s position. His state also has one of the highest rates of new COVID cases reported.
During a solemn ceremony in July that commemorated several victims of severe flooding, Laschet was captured on video that showed him giggling. The mistake has gone viral and has called into question his sincerity and devotion among many in public.
Conservative-on-conservative infighting has further weakened the political right’s position during the election season. Two leftist candidates have taken advantage to become the front-runners for the chancellorship as a result.
Because Germans poll very highly in expressing concern over climate change, Green Party candidate Annalena Baerbock, who is less radical than most in her party, has a natural advantage. In addition to the chancellorship, the Greens are expected to install a socialist government and become a significant force in the next government.
Olaf Scholz is the candidate of the Social Democrat Party and is seen as a bland and safe choice by most voters. He has been a big part of Merkel’s government and has been visible in handling pandemic relief. Scholz is expected to receive extreme leftward pressure from the Greens and the uber-left Free Democrats if elected.
Germany’s next Chancellor will be immediately thrust into the European spotlight as a chief rival of French President Emmanuel Macron in EU political posturing. While Germany will undoubtedly remain the supreme power in the EU, Macron will be more aggressive in dealing with whatever German newcomer is elected.