BERLIN (dpa) – Angela Merkel will leave her office in the coming months with intact popularity among voters and admired far beyond Germany as Chancellor, who has skilfully led her country and Europe through numerous crises.
Your center-right block, on the other hand, is in ruins.
The once dominant Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, suffered their worst federal election result of all time on Sunday. The Union bloc received less than a quarter of the vote and could be relegated to the role of the opposition after 16 years in power.
This is mainly due to the uninspiring candidate of her party, Armin Laschet, a governor whose slip and friendliness contrasted Merkel’s image as a calm, professional stateswoman.
Observers say, however, that the longtime leader bears at least some responsibility for her party’s plight.
“In recent years Merkel has concentrated on government and neglected her party work,” says Klaus Stuewe, political scientist at the Catholic University of EichstÃ¤tt-Ingolstadt.
After resigning as party leader in 2018, Merkel largely resigned while the Christian Democrats underwent a series of painful leadership competitions. The turmoil diminished their efforts to create a coherent party program that for years focused primarily on Merkel’s personality, and many voters lost confidence in their competence in key areas such as foreign and economic policy.
Even after Laschet won the nomination of the Union bloc in a hotly contested battle in April, Merkel remained aloof. That made some in her group wonder if they cared what happened to her when she left. What could have been a gracious political decision to take the reins in hand with younger politicians when the 67-year-old leader switched to senior stateswoman apparently backfired, leaving a huge void. It is also not known how Merkel felt about Laschet as a would-be successor.
“She has not campaigned for Laschet for a long time and only supported him at the very end before the general election, when it was already too late,” said Stuewe.
When the party’s dismal election results became known late on Sunday, Laschet said that “no one had an incumbent bonus in this election” – recognition he had failed to gain from Merkel’s worldwide reputation.
The Union bloc is still looking for a chance to lead the next government with two smaller parties – the environmentalists Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats – but its second place in Sunday’s election behind the center-left Social Democrats makes this very difficult to justify .
Some party members have suggested that it might be better to take a renewal phase.
“Of course we are ready to talk,” said Bavaria’s governor Markus SÃ¶der, who heads the CDU and was beaten by Laschet as a candidate for chancellor.
But SÃ¶der made it clear that his group within the Union bloc was ready to go into the opposition and added: “We will not try to bring a government together at any cost.”
Her party’s poor result is unlikely to cloud the positive opinion of most voters of Merkel, as she will remain as Chancellor – possibly for several months – while the coalition talks take place in Germany, said Julia Reuschenbach, a political scientist at the University of Bonn.
“As long as the government is being formed, she will probably remain the seasoned, experienced politician who will now have to lead the country through a transition period,” said Reuschenbach.
In a way, Merkel’s policies will outlive her reign.
Olaf Scholz, who led the Social Democrats to a narrow victory, successfully adopted Merkel’s calm, matter-of-fact manner during the election campaign. Experts say that their strong commitment to European integration and the transatlantic alliance with the USA will continue to exist under Scholz and Laschet.
“In domestic politics, your successor will primarily have to prove himself as a moderator between three coalition parties,” said Frank Brettschneider, a specialist in communication theory at the University of Hohenheim.
Germany’s next Chancellor may also have to deal with one of the biggest criticisms of Merkel’s step-by-step policy approach: that she has not kept pace with the major changes in the country and beyond.
While some saw Merkel as an anchor of stability, especially in turbulent times, others saw her as a source of stagnation.
Necessary reforms – from the digitization of schools and public services to the greening of German heavy industry – were hardly attempted under Merkel. And despite frequent and vocal protests to speed Germany’s response to climate change, it has ensured that the country’s powerful auto industry has been protected from harsh measures.
“During Trump’s presidency, it was a projection screen for many more liberal and cosmopolitan, but essentially conservative attitudes in politics,” said political scientist Stuewe.
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