Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Great German Dilemma Returns After Two Centuries

Swinging in the cradle of a precarious political future, Germany is not just preparing itself for the election of the undisputed Angela Merkel’s successor, but also for the question that is making rebound after more than two centuries. The question unaddressed publicly hitherto but will define the future of Germany and to a great extent, the whole of Europe- Will Germany seek her interests in the dream of the United States of Europe? Or one drawn towards the best interest of internal diplomacy?

In many ways, this dilemma is not so different from the very German question of the 19th century- a Germany of all German-speaking people or a Germany of solely the northern states.

Formed out of the long bitter rivalry between Prussia and Austria, Germany has ever since its inception held a position among the greatest powers of the world, with its vast network of navigable rivers and centrally located position in mainland Europe. Germany, das Land in der Mitte, has always dominated European politics. A strong and united Germany has oftentimes made the European powers anxious, with its history of temptations to dominate the continent.

Angela Merkel successor- Germany elections
Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe

ALSO READ: What Merkel’s Exit Means For Global Politics and Who Are Potential Successors

As known in the world of politics and also backed by several files released by the U.K.’s National Archive, the German unification bedeviled Margaret Thatcher immensely after the fall of the Berlin wall. It won’t be wrong to call Thatcher the personification of the U.K.’s insecurity against the German land that displayed a great potential to dominate mainland Europe. The insecurity likewise shared with her peer in Paris, Francois Mitterand.

However, Germany sailed through the vicissitudes of opposition and jealousies to prove its opponents wrong and in the last 40 years, the nation has instead come out as the center of stability and peace in Europe.

However, looking through 2021, the German people and their bureaucracy appear addled. Even with the ousting of Trump, Trans-Atlantic relations, which served as the backbone to prosperity in the west, look bleak. President Biden seeks a Europe investing more into defense, taking an aggressive stance against America’s foes, especially Russia, Iran, and China, and opening up their markets more to American corporations.

Angela Merkel and Joe Biden
Photo by: Markus Schreiber, AP

These challenges added with Brexit, Covid-19 pandemic, and rise of Euroscepticism across the entire continent pose a grave threat to the vision of European integration.

Angela Merkel’s successor will be taking the position with all these challenges on board. The challenges are highly likely to reinforce the dilemma that Germans encountered and solved during the 19th century. Whether to establish the ethos of the European Union by focussing on the great good of the vision or to confine the stretches of betterment to just the German mainland and its people.

In the words of British-Canadian historian, Rory Mclean, “Berlin is based on volatility. Its identity is not based on stability but on change

And change is what Berlin seeks this year. Angela Merkel will step down later this year during the September elections as the Chancellor of Germany and will not be seeking a fifth term. Various candidates will fight to gain the position in the election this September.

Armin Laschet, a centrist like Angela Merkel and also her potential successor, won decisively against his conservative rival Reidrich Merz, in an online election earlier this year by 55 votes to become the leader of Christian Democratic Union party. In the coming months, the coalition of CDU and CSU (Christian Social Union) will have to decide the joint candidate for Chancellor.

Armin Laschet- Angela Merkel's Successor
Armin Laschet. Photo by: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Markus Söder, the leader of CSU and another potential successor of Angela Merkel, remains a popular choice among the German public to fill in the seat that Merkel will finally vacate after 15 years. He has yet not made public whether will he run for the position of Chancellor. Unlike Söder, Laschet is not yet a public figure and has a great challenge ahead to prove his leadership within a span of a few months.

Markus Soder- Angela Merkel's successor
Markus Soeder (Photo by CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

However, in his first attempt in the race to Bundestag, Armin seemed to have lost ground to the left. In recent state elections, Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU suffered clear defeats from parties on the left of the political spectrum, Die Grünen(the Greens) in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the center-left Social Democrats in Rhineland-Palatinate. Both of which got 7-9% more votes than CDU and finished first in their respective states.

These recent state elections in Germany and the opinion polls paint a very difficult picture for the possible Grand Coalition. The recent opinion polls show CDU trending at 27% and the Greens at 22%.

Public perception of Angela Merkel’s great leadership had helped the union of CDU & CSU to establish itself as the most dominant political coalition in Germany over the last 15 years. However, after Merkel’s exit things will not be an easy sail for this Union, as depicted in the latest state elections of Germany. The Social Democrats’ candidate for Chancellor, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, said: “What we see today is that forming a government is possible without the CDU.

Recent corruption scandal in mask procurement has been pointed as one of the reasons for the underwhelming performance in state elections. The scandal had led to two conservative politicians getting investigated and ultimately resigning from office as it was alleged that they took money to lobby for mask suppliers.

One thing remains obvious, this election year is bound to bring change to Germany. Angela Merkel’s long-held legacy as the pillar of European stability and peace will come to an end. Many in Germany and across will fight to fill the vacuum. 

2021 could not have been any more unstable for this change. Political and economic turmoil rocks European mainland, Great Britannia has departed from the EU and now seeks her own place in world affairs (which may not turn out to be a political and economic partner for the EU but a rival in the world economy). Russia and China are increasingly influencing countries in Europe and their relationship with America is coming under strain. On top of that, the political stability in France, the country with the potential to replace Germany’s dominance in the EU, is fast eroding.

The challenges lying ahead are grave enough to transform the mere probability of an EU fallout into a tangible realizable risk. This EU fallout will be complicated and consequential for national economies without any doubt. However, Germany has surprised the world in the past and is a nation not afraid of change to maintain greater stability. Coming months will decide her and the rest of Europe’s fate for the decades lying ahead.

In the words of Angela Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder (former Chancellor of Germany)- “Germany is in favor of integration precisely because we don’t want dominance. “

Abhimanyu Negi
Abhimanyu is a global economy and politics aficionado, working as the Head of International Business Development with a corporation in Gurugram.

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