Neither is the candidate for the breakup. The Social Democrat Olaf Scholz (SPD), leading in the polls (26%), like the conservative (CDU) Armin Laschet (21%) are posed as heirs of Angela Merkel. By releasing the levers of the country after sixteen years in power, the outgoing chancellor leaves a great void. Impossible not to refer to his “reign”.
Olaf Scholz, from another party, does it maliciously: “Er kann Kanzlerin” (“He can be chancellor”) proclaim its campaign posters. The current Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Finance, a fervent defender of budgetary orthodoxy before the health crisis, even had fun posing in one of the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin by taking up the Chancellor’s signature gesture: putting your hands in a diamond shape in front of him.
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For Armin Laschet, Merkel’s support is vital. During the campaign, the head of the German government came to her rescue on several occasions to help her catch up. Last Tuesday, she was symbolically with him in the constituency of his own beginnings in politics, in Stralsund in Pomerania (north-east).
Only the green candidate, Annalena Baerbock, directly dares to denounce a CDU “Which belongs to the past”. This positioning does not pay as much as hoped: with 17% of the voting intentions, the ecologist does not seem able to win. Yet Germany is heading for profound changes. And a leadership crisis is looming to accompany them.
Great three-way power test
The era of “GroKo” is over. Angela Merkel has worn to the cord this combination of “grand coalition” bringing together the two heavyweights of German politics, the CDU / CSU in the center-right and the SPD in the center-left. No one defends this system which prevailed three times during the era of the Chancellor. The two formations want to avoid collaborating this time. The next government should integrate three teams, with the Liberals of the FDP, given at 12%, or with the Greens. This type of coupling has been tested at the level of the States-regions (Länder). Never at the federal level.
“There is a real risk of the lowest common denominator”, estimates Alexandre Robinet-Borgomano, head of the Germany program at the Institut Montaigne, who interviewed 45 first-rate personalities (including Olaf Scholz) to publish his report Which Germany after Merkel ?. “I fear that the next term will not be very interesting, because of the difficulties in managing his inheritance. The Greens will undoubtedly emerge as the main alternative in the years to come. “
The country knows it is at a turning point: to remain competitive against the United States or China, already ahead on this point, it must take the green energy train. Apart from the far right, the main parties are aware of this. For the German automotive industry, this means accelerating the shift to all-electric, and to hydrogen for buses and heavy vehicles.
→ ANALYSIS. German elections 2021: the new realism of the Greens
If the Greens, currently in third position in the voting intentions, advocate the end of any new registration of gasoline vehicles by 2030, the representatives of the sector want the State to accelerate the development of the network of charging stations in order to to make electric vehicles usable everywhere. However, this ecological transition could cost 100,000 jobs by 2025 for a sector with 800,000.
Same challenge for the chemical and metallurgical industries. Very high CO emitters2, they are counting on the development of hydrogen to lower their production of greenhouse gases but will require, among other things, immense quantities of green electricity, while the country is abandoning nuclear and coal.
Fragile social balances
Germany certainly became the economic engine of Europe under the Merkel years, with a halving of the unemployment rate, but the gap between rich and poor has widened. “In 1995, only 15% of the unemployed lived in poverty. They were over 35% in 2005, almost two thirds in 2015 ”, notes Joachim Rock, from the federation of so-called solidarity associations.
As a result of the labor market reforms passed by Gerhard Schröder, Angela Merkel’s predecessor, low-wage jobs have grown, in services and in the east of the country, while part-time jobs have multiplied.
Germany, an economic giant at the foot of the wall
And if a minimum wage was adopted in 2015, 3.5 million Germans combine several odd jobs. “The polarization between the richest and the poorest has increased with the pandemic, notes political scientist Andrea Römmele from the Hertie School in Berlin. Housing has become the new social issue. ”
What, too, about the future of the retirement system and care for the elderly, when more than 19% of the population is over 67 years old, and there is a shortage of 100,000 caregivers in the country? “It’s tragic, but Angela Merkel leaves a traffic jam of unresolved issues,” Judge Ralph Bollmann, author of a biography of the Chancellor.
Debt at full speed
How, in this context, to finance the enormous investments to come? A priori, this will not require the lifting of the “Debt brake”, this rule enshrined in the Constitution under Merkel in 2009, but lifted during the pandemic. Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals want this rule to return quickly.
Will it be necessary to resort to tax increases, as the SPD wishes, leading in the voting intentions, as well as the ecologists, possible future coalition partners? The conservatives of the CDU / CSU and the liberals of the FDP are opposed to it and are betting on a revival of growth, via tax cuts, so that the coffers fill themselves again, as before the pandemic .
→ MAINTENANCE. Daniel Cohn-Bendit: “In Germany, compromise does not mean compromise”
The vast international tour on which Angela Merkel’s mandate ends leaves a large number of projects open. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, on the other hand, highlighted the heavy dependence on the American ally. No question of calling NATO into question, reassure Scholz and Laschet, in reaction to a proposal from the radical left (Die Linke).
But the two favorites refuse to mediate the major conflict looming between the United States and China. Hence a possible refocusing on the European Union. Olaf Scholz proposes the creation of a post of EU foreign minister. Armin Laschet proposes the establishment of a National Security Council at the Chancellery, in which the information would be included for the first time.
→ ANALYSIS. Angela Merkel’s succession, decisive for all of Europe
Sixteen years of power
September 2005. Angela Merkel narrowly beats Gerhard Schröder in the federal elections (4 seats away) and becomes the first Chancellor in history, re-elected in 2009, 2013 and 2017.
2010. It ends up accepting a bailout of the euro zone, at the cost of drastic austerity plans in reaction to the open debt crisis in Greece.
2011. The Chancellor opts for the nuclear phase-out after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
August 2015. “Wir schaffen das! ” (“We will get there!”) With this sentence entered in history, Angela Merkel wants to instill confidence in the Germans for the reception of refugees on the way to Germany, after the war in Syria.
2020. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Angela Merkel loosens the “Debt brake” enshrined in the Constitution in 2009. Germany agrees to contract a shared debt of 750 billion euros at European level, to help the most seriously affected countries.