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In September of this year, German voters will head to the polls to elect a new Bundestag or German Federal Parliament. However, for the first time in 16 years, they will not be able to vote for Angela Merkel, who announced in 2018, she would not run for a fifth consecutive term. Angela Merkel was the first female Chancellor of Germany and has been widely described as the de facto leader of Europe. If the reader wishes to know more about the legacy Merkel leaves behind, both in Germany and the European Union, we have written two articles that discuss this very topic. You can find part one here [Merkel Part 1] and part two here [Merkel Part 2]. So, if Merkel is out, who will be the next Chancellor of Germany? Let us look at the three front-runners.
Armin Laschet is a 60-year-old former layer and journalist. He is currently the State Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state in Germany. Laschet is the current leader of the center-right party, Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), and he will head to the elections under a political alliance between CDU and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU), the latter being a sister party of the CDU that operates in the German state of Bavaria. Angela Merkel was the leader of this political alliance in the elections from 2005 to 2017, so the reader can think of Laschet as her successor.
Annalena Baerbock is a 40-year-old member of the Bundestag, and co-leader of the center-left party alliance called the Greens. In April, the Baerbock was announced as the Greens’ candidate for Chancellor for this year’s federal elections, which was the first time the Greens announced a sole candidate for Germany’s head of government. She has been a member of parliament since 2013 but has never held any public office.
Olaf Scholz, 62-years-old is the current Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Finance of Germany. He is the nominee of the center-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP) for Chancellor. He has been part of the SDP since 1975 and has had a long political career. He is seen as being part of the more conservative wing of the SDP. Scholz is by far the most experienced candidate of the three.
What do the polls tell us?
As for the time of writing, it is still early to tell who will win the elections in September. The current polls show the Greens of Annalena Baerbock ahead in the polls. Despite her lack of political experience, Baerbock’s smooth nomination process and message of reshaping German politics have resonated with voters. In second in the polls and within the margin of error comes Armin Laschet’s CDU/CSU bloc. The long political battle between the two parties of this alliance to choose the nominee for Chancellor and widespread accusations of corruption against some CDU members of parliament have damaged the image of the bloc in the public sphere. In third, and quite far away from both the Greens and the CDU/CSU block, is Olaf Scholz’s SDP. Despite being either the largest or second largest party in every election since the end of WWII, the SDP has been on a declining trend over the last 16 years and had its worst result since 1932 on the last Federal elections. If the party does not manage to recover, it will have its worst electoral performance since 1887 (134 years ago).
The numbers now show that the winner in September will be either Baerbock or Laschet, however, both parties are polling quite far away from winning an absolute majority in the Bundestag. Therefore, either one will face the challenging task of forming a coalition able to govern Germany until 2026.
Consequences on for the EU
However, the Chancellor of Germany is often described as the de facto leader of Europe, so it is important to understand what type of policies the two favorite candidates defend for the EU.
Both candidates are pro-European, with Laschet recently saying that “in any global problem-solving, we need multilateral solutions, we need a European Germany.” However, their views towards Europe are quite different.
Armin Laschet is one of Merkel’s closest political allies so his policies towards the EU and other European countries will follow in the steps of his predecessor. He is a strong defender of Merkel’s stance on the Covid-19 recovery package and controversial migration policy. He has also defended a closer relationship between Germany and France, and an attempt to improve diplomatic relations between the EU and Russia. In his program, “Impulse 2021”, Laschet states the importance of completing the Single Market, increasing the use of qualified majority voting, and reinforcing the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
On the other hand, the election of Annalena Baerbock could dramatically change the EU and its relationship with the rest of the continent and the rest of the world. First, Baerbock has defended the reform of the German “debt brake” that prohibits the government from having a structural deficit above 0.35% of GDP, saying it leads to low public investment, which in turn, hurts the competitivity of the German economy, additionally it makes it harder for the country to fight global warming. This change in fiscal policy could translate into a less strict approach by Germany towards fiscal responsibility being forced upon highly indebted European countries, such as Italy and Greece. The Greens have also defended making the EU’s recovery package permanent, and that the Stability and Growth Pact is excessive and should be reformed. For the readers who do not know, the Stability and Growth Pact is a set of fiscal rules which state EU countries cannot have budget deficits above 3% of GDP and the national debt cannot surpass 60% of GDP. As of 2021, only 13 of the 27 member states meet both criteria, and Germany is not one of them. Baerbock’s dedicated support for action against global warming will also likely lead to a more climate-focused EU, she has even supported a transatlantic Green Deal. As for Russia, Baerbock defends the suspension of Nord Stream 2, a project set to deliver Russian natural gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea, and defends a tougher stance against Putin’s actions on Ukraine. Regarding China, the Greens see a necessity for Europe to cooperate with the country to fight climate change, however, the party advocates for EU sanctions on China over its treatment of the Uighurs minority. The reader can learn more about China’s violations of human rights against Uighurs in this previous article [Uighurs] we have written about the topic. The Greens have also shown opposition against the EU’s recently concluded Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) with Beijing and seeks to block Huawei’s participation in Europe’s switch to 5G.
As already mentioned in this article, it is still too early to know what will happen in this year’s election, and Laschet’s or Baerbock’s ability to change the European Union’s domestic and foreign policy will depend not only on their electoral result but on what sort of coalition they will be able to form to govern Germany. However, there is one thing we know for certain, with Merkel’s exit, come 2022, Germany and the EU will have a new leader.
Sources: The Wall Street Journal, Rusi, Politico, BBC, CNBC, DW, The Economist, Financial Times, The Times
João Sande e Castro
Pedro Afonso Estorninho