Stepping back: on Merkel's decision to step down after 2021 and future of politics in Germany

As the Angela Merkel era draws to a close, Germany’s post-War political model of two-party rule is under strain. Chancellor Merkel’s decision to stand down as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, after leading it for 18 years, was triggered by its poor showing in recent regional elections. But Ms. Merkel’s announcement to quit politics after the end of her current term merely mirrors her waning influence among the conservatives and in the governing coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Recently, her preferred choice to lead the party in Parliament was voted down. Earlier, the row between her and the Interior Minister over the treatment of refugees nearly marked the end of the CDU’s alliance with the Christian Social Union. Following their worst combined showing in the 2017 general elections, the CDU and the SPD took months to forge their grand coalition. CDU hardliners blamed the drubbing on Ms. Merkel’s policies seeking to steer the party to the political centre. Conversely, the SPD saw its cohabitation with the conservatives exacting a heavy price. The alliance thus remains uneasy.

But the one singular factor that dramatically turned the tide against Ms. Merkel, both at home and across the EU, was her approach to migration. The 2015 humanitarian intervention to welcome into Germany a million, mostly Syrian refugees was seized upon by the eurosceptic and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Its populist rhetoric was directed until then against Berlin’s backing for the eurozone bailout programme. The target now shifted to playing up the economic burden on account of the arrival of masses of Muslim refugees. The move also bolstered support for CDU leaders, who saw a direct link between what was to them too lenient an approach to migration and the inroads of the AfD. The conservative leadership battle will determine whether the CDU will be able to reverse its course back to its traditional base on the political right. Veterans eager for a return to the party’s roots hope that such a reconfiguration would force the AfD to the fringe. Another likely scenario is the emergence of the Greens as a formidable mainstream alternative, possibly cutting into the SPD base. Paradoxically, even as Germany’s two-party system turns shaky, its famed model of political consensus-building could only have greater relevance under a future multi-party polity. The implications for the EU from the unfolding transition in Germany are immense, given Berlin’s leadership role over the decades, alongside Paris, in shaping the course of European integration. The 2019 election to the European parliament could be a pointer to the way ahead.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 10:43:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/stepping-back/article25394663.ece

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