What happens after Merkel?

After Merkel's announcement that she will not stand for election as leader of the CDU at the next party conference, three contenders have emerged to replace her: the former chairman of the CDU parliamentary group Friedrich Merz, CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Health Minister Jens Spahn. Commentators speculate on the changes ahead for Germany's EU policy and party landscape.

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Financial Times (GB) /

Merz could become new force for EU reform

With his pro-European stance Friedrich Merz could inject new life into Germany's EU policy, columnist Wolfgang Münchau says in the Financial Times:

“Within the CDU, conservatism often goes hand in hand with Euroscepticism. But Mr Merz does not fit into that scheme. He recently cosigned a letter with Jürgen Habermas, the German philosopher and radical European federalist, in support of a European army and strengthening the eurozone. Their views are unusually strong for the CDU. But this combination of social conservatism and pro-Europeanism could become central to German politics.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Two parties are reaping the benefits

Germany's party landscape is changing radically, observes Le Figaro:

“Two parties are dreaming of overturning the established order: the far-right, anti-Islam and populist AfD, the third largest party in the Bundestag, and the pro-European 'realist' Greens. ... The populists have benefited from issues that have come to dominate the public discourse: the rejection of refugees and criticism of Europe. The Greens have likewise benefited because they have adopted the opposite position on these topics. The two forces complement each other. ... The AfD is well established in Germany. The Greens, for their part, need to build up their electorate if they want to represent a genuine alternative to the AfD and also to the CDU and SPD.”

Tvnet (LV) /

Equally talented successor wanted

Merkel's potential successor has big shoes to fill, the online portal Tvnet notes:

“Though many European countries would have liked to lift sanctions against Russia, Merkel contributed to keeping them in place. She has also masterfully balanced transatlantic and European interests during Trump's aggressive presidency. And she has tried to maintain the equilibrium during the extremely difficult Brexit process. On one hand she was unyielding; on the other she stressed that the EU wants to maintain good relations with Britain, come what may. The question is whether Merkel's successor will be able to equal her invaluable diplomatic skills when it comes to calming European fears.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Caught between the Greens and the AfD

The quest for someone to replace Angela Merkel as leader of the CDU is not just about names, but above all about correcting the party's course, Lidové noviny observes:

“Under Merkel the CDU went from being a liberal-conservative party to a centre party, and even a centre-left party some might say. To what extent this has contributed to its loss of voters isn't entirely clear. In Hesse the party lost a similar amount of voters to the Greens as it did to the AfD. Those who want to pursue Merkel's party line risk contributing to the latter's further expansion. Those who want to change it risk giving the Greens another boost.”

Contributors (RO) /

Post-Merkel era will be harsher

Angela Merkel has provided a counterweight to Europe's growing nationalism, says political scientist Valentin Naumescu in a commentary piece in Contributors:

“For Romania and the countries on the EU periphery, a new tone in Berlin politics is probably nothing to celebrate. In this new era of resurgent nationalism and protectionism in Europe, the bigger economies are contributing less to the European project. People's mobility will be drastically reduced and there will be fewer opportunities for careers, study and business. ... The more decision-making power Brussels cedes to national governments, the greater the distance will become between developed and less competitive states; thus the strong will increasingly dictate to the weak.”

Revista 22 (RO) /

The populists are already lying in wait

Revista 22 fears that Europe will only become more unstable with Merkel's forthcoming departure:

“The question is whether Merkel will still be able to push through her standpoint on a European level, or whether the retiring chancellor, and Germany too, will now be ignored by the other EU member states. What's at stake here are sensitive issues like tax and budget policy, immigration policy, and the rift between the West and East, as well as other weighty European issues. Berlin's positions were challenged fiercely, some even virulently. Italy is the most recent example, nevertheless until now there has at least been a certain coherence and predictability. With a Germany weakened by strife there is now the risk that Europe's predictability will vanish - much to the delight of populist movements that fish in troubled waters.”

Polityka (PL) /

Poland was close to the chancellor's heart

Angela Merkel's departure from politics is particularly painful for Poland, comments Polityka:

“Angela Merkel is perhaps the last German head of government who has a clearly positive attitude towards Poland. The chancellor has Polish roots and remembers this often and fondly. Her grandfather on her father's side was called Ludwik Kazimierczak, he was a police officer and a member of the legions that participated in the independence movement [in World War I]. Merkel grew up in East Germany, spent her youth there and, like many critics of the communist government, regards the Solidarność movement with admiration. The chancellor belongs to a small and shrinking group of Germans who believe they are indebted to Solidarność, without which - as they say - Germany's reunification would never have happened.”

888.hu (HU) /

Farewell to an ice-cold manager

The right wing nationalist pro-government website 888.hu is delighted at the news of Merkel's departure:

“This is the end. The German mother hen is on her way out, first as party leader, and then as chancellor. ... Along with her, the progressives' dreams for Central Europe will also disappear. The German chancellor has run a marathon and for that she deserves credit. But in the end she got tired. That said, of course she still had great plans for Europe: great in the way that only a Germanic leader can have. The progressive camp loved its Mutti as if it had been hypnotised by her. Above all because she's such a dispassionate, ice-cold manager, a woman of negotiations.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

What we will miss most

Merkel's announced departure is a bitter loss for Europe, De Volkskrant laments:

“It looks as though Merkel's stepping down will inevitably alter the role that Germany played in Europe under Merkel. Particularly now, as Brexit moves closer, the EU can hardly get by without Merkel's experience - and her calm. It was by no means everyone who agreed with her decision to open the floodgates for Syrian refugees according to the motto: 'We can do it'. But Merkel's moral compass was unimpeachable. What Europe will miss in her above all else when she finally leaves the stage is her role as a counterweight to the undemocratic forces that are currently on the rise all over the world.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Resistance from other states will grow

Deutschlandfunk doubts that Merkel will be able to inject into Europe before she ends her time in office:

“On the contrary: without the leadership of her party she no longer has sufficient backing for this. And naturally the other 27 states and leaders in the EU can feel this - and will react accordingly. Orban, Salvini and co. will be even more stubborn in their migration policy and count on Merkel's successor as chancellor finally putting an end to the concept of distributing refugees across the EU. The northern Europeans and Baltic states will become more hesitant regarding Eurozone reform in the hope that Merkel's successor will free the project of all risk-sharing elements. No, Angela Merkel's influence in the EU diminished massively yesterday.”

Novi list (HR) /

No pro-European leaders in sight

With Merkel's departure the EU will lose a key leader, Novi list laments:

“Europe is facing major tasks like finalising Brexit. Meanwhile economic experts are announcing the next crisis. And in foreign policy there are also challenges like the relations with Putin and Trump, who would both like to see the EU collapse. So Merkel's departure is bad news for Europe, which needs a resolute yet moderate leader more than ever now. Without strong and pro-European leaders in Berlin and Paris things do not look good for Europe, especially at a time when more and more European countries are falling into the hands of right-wing extremists and populists.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Successor won't have as much credibility

Rzeczpospolita suspects that Merkel's successor in the chancellery will be less pro-European:

“The next German chancellor will possess neither Merkel's experience nor her credibility. Any leader of a major EU country will of course influence the policies of the 28 - soon to be 27. But it's possible that Europe won't have the same value for him as for Merkel and her generation in the CDU. And perhaps he'll lack Merkel's talent for moderation. At a time when the European Union is in danger of collapsing (e.g. as a result of Brexit, populism or migration) this is bad news.”

Lost in EUrope (DE) /

She remained detached for too long

Eric Bonse is not at all enthusiastic about Merkel's Europe policy on his blog Lost in Europe:

“First she left Greece in the lurch when the country ran into difficulties. Then she forced Spain to take part in the euro bailout scheme and pushed through unnecessarily harsh austerity measures that caused much suffering. At the same time Merkel obstinately averted her eyes as a growing number of refugees crossed the Mediterranean to Spain, Italy and Greece. Ex-Commission president Barroso wept while Merkel wore a cold smile. It was only when the crisis spilled over into Germany in 2015 that the chancellor suddenly insisted on a 'European solution' - which she then promptly betrayed with her dirty deal with Sultan Erdoğan.”

Irish Independent (IE) /

Kohl did much more for the EU

Angela Merkel's European policy was marked by dithering and restraint, The Irish Independent counters:

“In Brussels, many diplomats acknowledge her fundamental commitment to the European Union. But it has been clear that her enthusiasm for the project was a fraction of that shown by Helmut Kohl, who was the last of a generation of leaders who had bitter experience of World War II. Her low-key role in the eurozone crisis ... was often sharply criticised. But it did chime with the German people's more frugal and careful take on life, and is at least part of the reason the voters kept faith with her across four elections.”