What happens next for Angela Merkel after elections?

Q: What happens next for Angela Merkel?

A: After winning a fourth term, she needs to pass the tough leadership test that confronts Germany – maintaining unity in Europe, dealing with increasingly divisive issues in Germany like asylum and immigration, and leading a government out of next month’s election. Many people in Germany are looking for a way to reconcile Merkel, whose dominance in German politics has been long compared to Maggie Thatcher’s, with what Germany needs to do in the coming years.

Q: What does she need to do?

A: Any attempt to involve Merkel in new initiatives, proposals and decisions will seem out of place during the election period and domestically and internationally will be tough.

Q: How far will her party fall in the polls?

A: Based on exit polls from last Sunday’s elections, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will likely enter the Bundestag as the third largest, after the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats.

Q: How will Europe react?

A: The eurozone faces a new challenge. Last Sunday’s election result dashed hopes of a smooth transition from the status quo of German leadership and policy following years of crises and political crises in the bloc. The fresh uncertainty brought an urgency to the positions taken during the euro crisis, including the triggering of an emergency bail-out in 2010 and of two sovereign bailouts in Greece.

Q: Is Merkel for it?

A: Merkel said in a hastily organised news conference last week that she will offer reassurances to her party and make a go of her fourth term in office. She sought to emphasise her efforts to find common ground with the AfD and to be on good terms with potential new coalition partners. She said that Germany, Europe and the world should look to face their challenges together. The lessons from the AfD election victory, Merkel said, were to remain united, to avoid a compromise on key issues of key importance, such as climate change, nuclear power, and the military, to be decisive and to work on building a consensus of politicians and citizens. She said that she is not prepared to change policies that she has championed.

Q: What is most needed at home and abroad?

A: For Germany, stability in the foreign policy and defence policies is key. Germany has been reluctant to play a more decisive role in global affairs in the last decade – but the threats are growing. It has not been able to stick to its plan to withdraw from two nuclear power plants in recent years. There has been widespread concern about dwindling financial backing for European military cooperation and to sustain large-scale programmes. Germany will face strong questions from domestic and international audiences about its security policy and readiness to defend its interests.

Q: Does Europe need stability?

A: Europe is often accused of being isolationist; it has often tried to play a global role in global causes. The European Union’s most recent crises – in the eurozone and in Brexit – were triggered by instability within Europe, not from outside the EU. What will be clear after the election result is the scale of dissatisfaction about Germany’s European policies and international responsibilities.

Q: What can Merkel do after 13 years in power?

A: She is now perceived as an untouchable, either for the defeat or the triumph of the nationalist extremists who won seven seats in parliament. Germany needs to change its story and look to the future. It needs a whole new generation of leaders to fight the forces of populism and nationalism. That could mean taking a hard line against far-right parties like the AfD, which have seen their support grow rapidly by exploiting the frustrations of economic insecurity and the lack of opportunities for young people. Merkel needs to unify her party, not dish out sympathy.

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