31 October 2018

On Monday (29 October) German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she will not be seeking another term as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, and that her current term as chancellor would be the last one. Merkel’s move might not have come as a surprise for many analysts, but it generated a variety of responses across the continent.

Most press reactions focused on reviewing Merkel’s legacy for German and European politics; her chances of staying on as chancellor until 2021; the decline of CDU popularity in recent federal and state elections; as well as potential successors. Overall the press depicts the ‘Twilight’ of the Merkel era as a rather negative event for German and European politics, suggesting a coming period of uncertainty and political instability.

 

Germany 🇩🇪

The right-leaning political magazine Cicero writes on Merkel’s legacy, “It is certainly also her achievement that Germany is economically better off than it had been for a long time. At the same time, the high levels of uncertainty over future developments and over social cohesion are her responsibility. The profound political-cultural rift dividing the country, and the establishment of a right-wing party in Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), will be part of her legacy.”

The centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung comments on the consequences of Merkel’s gradual departure,

It brings a new dynamic into German politics, because ‘simply carrying on’ will no longer work for the other coalition parties [the Social Democrats, SPD, and Bavarian Christian Social Union, CSU] either. If Merkel goes, others will have to go as well.

The centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung thinks that the division of party leadership and chancellor’s office could cause trouble down the road for Germany’s position on the European level. It comments, “Could you imagine that the CDU leader Friedrich Merz [representing the party’s conservative wing] would let chancellor Merkel, who is clearly on her way out, have the same free rein in the EU that she currently enjoys? That there would not be fundamental disagreements? That the party leader of the biggest coalition party and likely candidate for future chancellor would not insist on having his way? […] With Jens Spahn, who would be elected as a conservative promise, conflicts would be conceivable as well.”

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes, “You cannot really call Angela Merkel’s chancellorship a failure. Because to fail, you need to have goals. And Angela Merkel never actually had those.” The newspaper also strongly criticises Merkel’s actions during the Eurozone crisis, writing, “Rather than advancing the democratisation and social expansion of the Eurozone, Merkel exacerbated imbalances, which contributed to the rise of right-wing populism across the continent.”

 

Austria 🇦🇹

The centre-left daily Die Presse argues that Merkel is committing a “fatal mistake” by remaining Chancellor but renouncing party leadership and accuses her of betraying her own principles, as she herself previously stated that the two roles go together. It comments,

If you are not able anymore to lead a party, you also should not govern a country. Like this, Merkel turns herself into a ‘lame duck’. A collapse of the governing ‘Grand Coalition’ would now also be her end.

Meanwhile, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard thinks that Merkel’s departure will make life more difficult for the far-right AfD Party: “The AfD now loses its bogeyman.” It writes that should Merkel’s successor come from her party’s right wing, “Many conservatives who moved from the CDU to the AfD would probably come back.”

 

France 🇫🇷

Le Figaro writes that Merkel’s “political weakening is bad news for the pro-Europeans.” She managed to navigate across various crises, and only on her fourth mandate she understood “the necessity to relaunch Europe.” The paper notes that Merkel’s priority remains “maintaining European cohesion rather than [the EU’s] deepening. It’s too early to say whether she has succeeded.”

An editorial on radio network RTL’s website notes that “The weakening of Angela Merkel in Germany and the ensuing political crisis is very bad news for French President Emmanuel Macron. His goal of a revitalised Europe, at the heart of his political vision, will be more difficult to put in place,” warning,

The progressive camp which Macron defends is now scattered.

Business newspaper La Tribune also notes that Macron’s plans to reform the EU “have suffered from the weakening of the Chancellor.”

L’Opinion presents a similar point of view, arguing that the weakening of Merkel is bad news not only for Macron, but for the whole EU, as “without an ally in Germany, the reforms supported by France and its president will fizzle out.”

 

Radio station France Inter’s blog states that Europe “did not need a Germany without uncertain leadership,” and that there is no longer any appetite for “big European ambitions” in Germany, which creates a risk for the French President and his reform proposals. It concludes that there is more “unpredictability in Berlin than in Paris, this is new and not very reassuring.”

 

UK 🇬🇧

The Times notes that Merkel’s departure “heralds a period of instability in Europe’s largest economy” and that “the power struggle to replace her as party leader — and as the prime candidate to succeed her as chancellor — is likely to be chaotic.”

An editorial in The Guardian warns, “The politics of Germany, so stable for so long, are now full of uncertainties that will resonate far beyond Berlin. Mrs Merkel has dominated politics in Germany for so long that her departure is bound to be traumatic… Mrs Merkel’s successor will have to learn from her strengths as well as her failings in the vital task of rebuilding confidence across our anxious continent.”

Along the same lines, the Daily Telegraph comments, “Impasse looks set to be Angela Merkel’s legacy at home and in the EU… By trying to cling to the chancellorship after December, Merkel will deepen that troubling trend. Her slow-motion departure won’t reverse the growing polarisation of politics across the EU which marked her 13 years as the group’s dominant political personality.”

As to the consequences for Brexit negotiations, the Financial Times briefing says that in most aspects, not much will change, arguing, “Whether or not Ms Merkel is in power, there is simply no room in the German vision for the sort of pick-and-choose approach to EU arrangements favoured by Theresa May, the UK premier’s advisers and, it seems, most of the British political classes.”  In the long term, however, Merkel’s withdrawal will have various consequences for the EU, which faces a number of challenges including Brexit.

 

Belgium 🇧🇪

Belgian business daily De Tijd notes, “Merkel lost all political authority in her political family. This became painfully apparent when her loyal lieutenant, Volker Kauder, was voted out as Christian Democratic faction leader. The conservative wing of the party is keen to pursue a more right wing course.” On Merkel’s fate it says, “Her eventual farewell will be minor. That is the price you pay when you stubbornly and cunningly cling to power for so long. The much-loved ‘Mutti’ is no longer and Frau Merkel is now out of favour.”

Elsewhere, Flemish daily De Standaard says that the CDU’s problems will not be solved only by electing a new leader, warning that “it is by no means certain that German politics will soon be in calmer waters again.”

 

Netherlands 🇳🇱

Dutch centre-left daily Volkskrant comments, “If Merkel totters, the EU is shaking,” calling her “the axis around which the EU has been reverting during the last ten years.” It also notes that the departure will be difficult to swallow for Emmanuel Macron, as “he needs Germany for his European aspirations.”

 

Italy 🇮🇹

A comment in centrist Corriere della Sera names Merkel as “pragmatic, sometimes boring, but capable of surprising choices,” describing the Chancellor as a “historical giant” in this century.  It notes that her “modesty and good sense” will be missed after she leaves politics, especially “in the desert of leadership and political stature” of today’s global public affairs.

La Repubblica also predicts a more divided Europe after Merkel’s departure, while Il Sole 24 Ore notes that despite Merkel not being very popular outside of Germany, Europe is likely to regret her departure.

Merkel’s farewell is more of a goodbye, notes Il Giornale, adding,

For now, the Chancellor remains the reference point of media and politicians who, after the victory of Donald Trump in US elections, crowned her the ‘leader of the free world.’ Despite everything, Merkel seems to have the intention of maintaining this role.

Ireland 🇮🇪

Running with the headline “Angela Merkel’s withdrawal adds to insecurity in Europe,” The Irish Times writes, “None of [Merkel’s] potential successors have indicated any notable deviation from Merkel’s strategy to date: no Berlin solo runs, deference to Brussels negotiators and full backing for Dublin. But breaking in a new CDU leader is a distraction and a new element of insecurity in European politics, as if Brexit hadn’t already provided enough moving parts.”

In an editorial, The Irish Times  also states, “While some of Merkel’s authority will inevitably now begin to ebb away, her leadership at European level will continue to be vital as the Brexit talks enter a crucial phase and the bloc contends with the rise of authoritarian demagogues in Poland and Hungary. The Merkel era is entering its closing phase just when her strong, stabilising influence, and her liberal values, are most urgently needed.”

Meanwhile, The Irish Independent argues that Merkel’s decision to stay on as chancellor while not being party leader is a “a path fraught with peril,” with the domestic power play not playing in Merkel’s favour.  The paper adds, “For most of her career, Ms Merkel has been a political chess grand master, always two moves ahead of her opponents. Yesterday she looked cornered and forced into one last desperate gambit to hold on to power.”

 

Spain 🇪🇸

An editorial in centre-right national daily El Mundo comments that the effects of Merkel’s withdrawal will not only affect German politics, because “Merkel is not only Germany. Together with France, she has been steadfastly defending for many years the values ​​that have made Europe one of the most prosperous and progressive areas of the democratic world…Therefore, her withdrawal is bad news for the EU,” which faces challenges such as the consolidation of the banking union, populism and the complicated Brexit negotiations.

Centre-left daily El Pais writes that after the electoral losses in Bavaria and Hesse, “To continue as if nothing had happened was no longer an option” for the Chancellor, adding that

She seems to have finally understood that the time has come to move ahead and to decide: either her or the party.

Switzerland 🇨🇭

A commentary in the Zurich-based daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung argues that Merkel “missed the chance of a brilliant departure with her decision to continue holding on to the Chancellery… Instead, her announcement seems more like a manoeuvre designed to save the remaining power as long as possible into the future,” while noting it is uncertain whether she will be able to stay on given domestic political pressure.

 

Poland 🇵🇱

Daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza notes that the end of Merkel’s era is “bad news for Poland,” because she is one of the few German politicians “who understands Poland’s history” and its “ambitions towards the West and fears of the East.” It adds that Merkel’s departure is also not good news for the EU, as “Merkel had authority and understood the EU,” while her successor will lack her experience and this will increase uncertainty in Brussels.