Ahead of this Sunday’s German elections, the global news portal The Economist writes that only Otto von Bismarck and Helmut Kohl have been German chancellors longer than Angela Merkel, who is leaving politics. However, as the author of the article writes, Merkel’s achievements are much smaller.
Angela Merkel may have faced various crises during her 16 years in power, but her government has neglected too many things at national and international level. As the Economist predicts, she will leave behind mixed feelings of approval and disappointment.
The list of neglected issues is quite long, says the article, but the worst problem is the failure to reform the pension system. As the author says: “Germans are ageing rapidly and baby-boomers will put an even greater strain on the budget when they retire this decade. Germany is also slow on climate change and still emits more carbon per capita than any other major EU country, not helped by Merkel shutting down Germany’s nuclear industry after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.”
Merkel has also failed to take advantage of Germany’s significant influence in Europe. According to the author, the EU has not been decisive enough in tackling the weakness of its indebted southern members: “It was only during the pandemic that it created a financial instrument that allows it to issue debt with a joint guarantee and distribute part of the money in the form of grants instead of new loans. However, this is only a one-off measure. Worse still, the ‘stability’ rules that will force countries to save in order to reduce their debts are set for a recovery if they are not changed. Germany, always the strongest voice at the EU table, should be pushing harder for a more sensible approach.”
As for the European Union’s foreign policy, Germany should strive to adapt more quickly to the new world. “China is an increasingly sophisticated economic and strategic rival, Russia an unpredictable threat, and America a distracted and uncertain ally”, the author writes, pointing out that Germany has nevertheless hesitated. On the one hand, it is under-investing in defence and, on the other, it is too accommodating to Beijing in the hope of better terms of trade.
Which German candidate will be better than Merkel, the author wonders. According to the polls, there is likely to be a complication after the elections, as no party will be able to form a government. This is likely to lead to the formation of an “ideologically incoherent tripartite coalition”, which will be difficult to reach any really meaningful agreements because of the, among other things, big-spending Greens and the business-oriented Liberals.
The two most likely outcomes are as follows: the first is a coalition led by the Christian Democrats, with Merkel replaced by Armin Laschet. The second is a coalition led by Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats, the current German Finance Minister. In both cases, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats will also be in the coalition. Although both coalitions would have their shortcomings, the Economist article leans towards the second option, a Green-Red coalition led by Scholz.
The reason given by the author is that the Christian Democrats have squandered their opportunity and that 16 years in power was enough. “The party has run out of ideas and momentum, as is clearly shown by its decision to choose as Chancellor Mr Laschet, who is prone to mistakes and uninspiring”, the author argues. Incidentally, polls predict Laschet’s team “the worst result since the Second World War”.
Opinion polls show that Scholz will be chosen by twice as many voters. But is their choice the right one? The author writes that “there are reasons for hope, but also for fear”. Scholz has been a good finance minister, and he is also better suited to working with the Greens on climate change. However, his party is full of left-wingers who will want to pull him in their direction. In any case, the coalition talks are likely to last for several months and may result in a government that fails to achieve much. It is all part of the mess Angela Merkel is leaving behind, concludes the Economist.