This article by Matthew Bugeja was first published on this week’s edition of Diplomatique.Expert, Corporate Dispatch’s eJournal.
This is one of those stories that a lot of people are not paying much attention to, and who can blame them? The Coronavirus, the US butting heads with Iran, the US primaries, a new European Commission… the list goes on and on. But if you are someone who is interested in the future of the European Union, then you need to keep a close eye on what is happening in Germany at the moment. Why? Because Germany is the economic motor of Europe, and jointly with France, its political steering wheel. Without it, the EU is rudderless, and the eurozone would be a far weaker proposition.
In a nutshell, Angela Merkel’s successor-in-waiting, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has given up any ambitions she may have had for the chancellorship. In addition, she will also be stepping down from her leadership of the Christian Democrats (CDU), in order to be replaced by someone who will run for Chancellor in the next federal election in October 2021 – which is not too far off, from a logistics perspective. Political parties begin their studies quite early on, gauging the support a candidate will have in certain towns, cities and regions, and try to formulate a political strategy around a candidate’s strengths, whilst balancing what the country needs and what the people are looking for – a difficult proposition in the best of circumstances. In a situation where the candidate leading the charge is unknown, it becomes even more difficult.
The Munich Security Conference was held between the 14th and 16th February, and is considered the most elite gathering of foreign dignitaries, security experts and military personnel anywhere in the world. Think of the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland each year, but for security experts. In recent years, there has been some tension within the transatlantic alliance, with Donald Trump’s distaste for the NATO alliance being rather well-documented both in our analyses and elsewhere. This year, the spectre of a leaderless Germany will be not quite an embarassment for the Germans, but certainly an uncomfortable point they will be looking to avoid discussing with fellow attendees on the margins of the conference. Germany is not normally the first country one would associate with leadership on security and military matters – but it is definitely the first port of call in Europe for political ones. Politics influences foreign policy, and Berlin has been looking inwardly for a little too long, at this point.
Angela Merkel’s unspoken policy since winning the last German election appears to be to not rock the boat, and to simply glide through the rest of her premiership without providing any concrete proposals on the future of either Europe or Germany. This is not to say she has done absolutely nothing at all in this regard, but the silence from Berlin has been quite deafening.
Whilst Merkel’s approach is actually admirable, in that she is trying to avoid tying the hands of her successor, she also has a responsibility to her party, her country, and the EU to lead, whether she likes it or not.
Politically, the next leader of Germany has a lot to do. It needs to fend off the rise of the AfD, a far-right party which has been making some steady gains in recent years, in the domestic setting. That person will also need to lead a post-Brexit Europe, and try to forge a new relationship with an emboldened Boris Johnson, who will likely be around for a few years to come. The UK might have already completely left the EU by then, given that the transition period for its exit ends in December 2020. In addition, it will have to grapple with what direction it sees the EU going in, whether that is towards more or less political integration, and how to proceed with some reforms in the Economic and Monetary Union that Berlin has thus far dragged its feet on.
There is certainly a lot to do for Germany’s next leader. Their in-tray will be as full as it comes. However, despite her good intentions, Merkel cannot continue to abstain from maintaining Germany’s leadership role in Europe and the world in the meantime.
It would be a dereliction of duty to herself, her people, and Europeans who all look to Germany for their ability to use their influence to guide the continent forward. If she does not, Europe, and the world as a whole, will suffer.