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Germany’s historic moment of choice has finally arrived, and voters will go to the polls on Sunday for the country’s first vote after World War II without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then attempt to secure the majority of seats by drawing other parties into a power partnership. He will then replace Angela Merkel as German Chancellor.
If the last opinion polls are right, the center-left social democrats will finish first. In the coming weeks, they are expected to form a (potentially heavy) government coalition with the Green Party and pro-business Free Democrats, which would be the first-ever government alliance of more than two parties in Germany.
Although he is a center-left man, Olaf Scholz, current finance minister and probably the next chancellor, would not represent a radical break with Merkel. He is among the most tax-frugal German Social Democrats, and after decades in German politics, he is a seasoned technocrat and a skillful manager of political alliances.
A change of government would not radically alter Germany’s foreign and trade policy either. His new government, whatever it may be, will maintain strong security ties with the United States and NATO and protect opportunities for expand economic relations with China. Germany’s dependence on Russian energy will require the continuation of Merkel’s pragmatic approach to Vladimir Putin’s government.
Scholz’s belief that a strong and cohesive EU is good for Germany will limit any temptation to harden the tone with the governments of Poland and Hungary over their offenses EU rules and principles. And aware that COVID can widen the gaps between richer and poorer EU countries, and as anti-EU economic populism remains a powerful force in Italy and elsewhere, it is likely to support a generous approach to recovery from a pandemic in the south. from Europe.
But climate policy, an area where Merkel concedes that she should have done more, will be an important and interesting story to watch. Given its leadership within the EU and its position as the world’s fourth-largest economy, the influence of the next German government on climate policy will be crucial for global climate strategies. A new German government with Scholz as chancellor will likely speed up the pace of the transition from carbon to renewables, at least in part because the Green Party coalition partner will push as hard as possible. The Greens must show progress on the climate front to maintain their political credibility and popularity. If the Free Democrats are indeed part of the coalition, they will do everything they can to limit tax increases to fund tougher climate action, but they will not blow up the coalition that gives them a seat at the German government table. .
Even in a country that values stability and continuity, Angela Merkel’s 16-year journey is remarkable. More than once she has proven the maxim that it is not the smartest or the strongest who survives, but the one who adapts best to change. Merkel is smart and strong, of course, but she will be remembered the longest – both for her staunch admirers and harsh critics – as a leader who insisted that Germany could and should do. more to help indebted countries survive the sovereign debt crisis in Europe (2010-12) and to manage the influx of migrants following the unrest in the Middle East (2015-16). Her improvisational skills also led her to change course on nuclear (after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 in Japan) and on common European debt.
But the main reason Merkel is leaving power with a 80% approval rate is that, that she receives more credit than she deserves, she presided over a period of economic expansion and prosperity in Germany that few other world leaders can match. It is all the more remarkable that his party seems ready to find itself in opposition once the new government is formed. German voters love Merkel, not her political family.
At the end of the line : Whatever he does as the next German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz will find Angela Merkel a difficult act to follow.