Chancellor Angela Merkel still has six months to go until the end of her fourth and final term in Berlin, but the post-Merkel era began on Sunday night. In two regional polls in southwest Germany, his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) scored historically low in what were once the strongholds of the Conservative Party. Senior CDU officials concede that their disastrous part of the vote was a “wake-up call.”
A year after the start of the pandemic, Germany’s strong performance in the first wave is remembered. It looks like every mistake that can be made – on buying masks and rapid tests, making emergency payments to businesses, and vaccinations – have been made. A refusal to accept responsibility means that the public has decided to blame the ruling CDU in Berlin and its federal ministers of health and economics. Compounding their fury: In the rush to buy protective masks last year, a handful of center-right parliamentarians received kickbacks from manufacturers for winning government contracts.
Like CDU officials, the public has finally realized that Angela Merkel is packing her bags – and that her party has no plans for the future. Armin Laschet, party leader for two months, does not even agree with the Bavarian allies of the CDU who will lead their center-right campaign. Laschet promises continuity with Merkel’s centrist and pragmatic politics, but cannot replicate her unique tactical skill: driving on sight, solving complex problems pragmatically so voters don’t have to.
The pandemic has brutally exposed Germany’s main structural failure: a decentralized bureaucracy which, while comprehensive, cannot scale at the pace required by a pandemic. The good news is that Sunday’s revival sparked a debate about a realistic and socially just digital and ecological transformation. The bad news: Even after the federal election on September 26, exploratory and coalition talks are likely to drag on until Christmas. With its largest member distracted, much of the EU’s urgent recalibration business for the post-Brexit and post-pandemic era may have to wait until next year.