The Irish Times take on German politics: Life without Merkel

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In this age of virus anxiety and Brexit uncertainty, forecasting is a bad idea. But it is safe to say that, in a year, the German Chancellor will no longer be called Angela Merkel. After four terms, Merkel has achieved this rare feat among heads of government: she will leave before being rejected – or voted on -. She had less luck in anointing her successor.

Two years ago, Merkel stepped down as leader of her ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) after 18 years and handed the reins to her chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Last February, after a series of disastrous regional elections and political missteps, the unloved Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned.

At a digital party conference in mid-January, delegates are likely to choose Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, as the centrist leader and centrist chancellor candidate in the mold of Merkel.

Disruptive candidate Friedrich Merz, a millionaire businessman and Merkel rival, wants to refocus attention on his neglected center-right liberal roots. Their polarizing effect could spur a third candidate, Norbert Röttgen, a CDU foreign affairs expert with dark horse potential.

The new leader faces an unenviable task: to impose himself in the party – and with the public – before an election already fixed for September 26th. If the ballot were held next Sunday, the CDU, leading with 37% support, would be in a comfortable position to claim the chancellery for a fifth term. But the party’s popularity is inextricably linked to Merkel, who enjoys a remarkable 74% approval rating among voters. Many who vote for the CDU do so because of her, not the party, and many have yet to emotionally process her departure — or decide how they will vote without her.

German politics is not known for great drama and the CDU – in power for 50 of the past 70 years – has proven a stable partner in Berlin and Brussels. Given all the uncertainty hanging over the new year, however, the last thing Europe needed this Christmas was a question mark over where the continent’s most powerful party leader should be. .

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