As curtain falls on Merkel era, biggest German parties vie for power

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After almost 16 years at the helm of Europe’s most powerful economy, Angela Merkel will step down from the Chancellery as Germany votes on a new parliament. Merkel’s successor – either her representative of the Christian Democratic Union, Armin Laschet, or Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democrats – will not be determined until a new government is formed.

Sunday’s general election saw Scholz’s SPD win 25.7% of the vote, followed closely by the conservative CDU with 24.1%, according to official preliminary results released Monday morning. However, they alone do not have the majority necessary to govern and will have to form strategic coalitions that will determine who will govern the country.

It is historically rare in German politics that the composition of a ruling coalition and the identity of the next chancellor are so unclear. Despite Merkel’s popularity, her CDU has struggled to galvanize the traditional conservative party base under Laschet, the governor of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Laschet was full of blunders during the campaign, including being filmed laughing during a tribute to those who died in the devastating floods in West Germany in July. Even on polling day, Laschet erred in bending his ballot the wrong way – making his voting choice visible, which could render his vote invalid.

Climate change played a central role during the election race. Green environmentalists got more support than expected from the start.

It could take weeks, if not months, of inter-party negotiations before a coalition government is fully formed. Dr. Ursula Münch of the German Academy of Political Education predicts that the transition period will be long.

“Many in Germany are speculating that Merkel may still have to give the New Year’s speech,” Münch told ABC News.

One thing is certain: Merkel’s exit will mark the end of an era. In her final weeks, the Germans reflect on the legacy she leaves behind.

“Angela Merkel became Chancellor when I was 14,” German citizen, 30, Svenja Beck told ABC News. “I hardly remember anyone other than a woman who has ever ruled our country. It’s crazy that these days are coming to an end. Anyway, I hope she can enjoy her retirement well. deserved, especially after those exhausting years of a year and a half. “

Indeed, there is a feeling of nostalgia among some young Germans who have known only one country ruled by the leader known as “mutti”, or mother.

After three terms as Chancellor, Merkel is still a popular figure. Last week, a poll by Gallup Research recorded its approval rating at 71%.

Many Germans admired his behavior – reassuring confidence, pragmatism – others were assured by his regular economic policies which have brought the country through several crises. She is also appreciated for her ability to build consensus between governments and political beliefs.

“Merkel’s personal style left some marks,” Münch said. “His rather understated, unpretentious and down-to-earth nature seems to be popular among much of the population.”

Beyond that, Münch considers Merkel’s legacy to be defined by her crisis management and her ability to cope with adverse situations “step by step”.

Münch noted that while Merkel may approach potential conflicts with hesitation at first, she will deal with them quickly and thoroughly once she’s in the thick of it.

“We have seen it with the banking crisis, with the rescue of the euro, during the refugee crisis and now in particular with the coronavirus,” she added.

But over the years, Merkel has come under fire for being too complacent on some fronts, with environmentalists being particularly vocal in accusing her of not doing enough to tackle climate change.

German citizen Steffen Mechlinski, who voted for the Greens on Sunday, said he looked forward to some issues receiving more attention under the new leadership:

“After 16 solid years, I now look forward to an ambitious policy approach, especially when it comes to climate change, social justice, education and digitization,” Mechlinski told ABC News.

Internationally, Merkel has enjoyed great popularity.

“She’s seen as a very reliable person in many parts of the world,” Münch said, “although I’m sure some states in Eastern and Southeastern Europe may disagree. “

However, it is Merkel’s willingness to involve everyone, including small states, in political debates and decisions that give her a reputation for fairness and reliability.

Münch does not foresee any drastic changes in German foreign policy.

“The CDU and the SPD are really not that different from each other,” she said. “Both are transatlantic-oriented parties. Both – including the SPD under Olaf Scholz – are holding Russia at bay and approaching China with reservations.”

Even the Greens, who will be part of the new government, will not have a dramatic impact on the direction of Germany’s foreign policy, especially with regard to the United States.

“All three parties are transatlantic,” Münch added. “These are all people and parties who care a lot about German-American relations.”

During her years as Chancellor, Merkel has resisted a tougher stance on China, as trade between the two countries is booming.

Münch does not expect him to anticipate dramatic changes towards China, arguing that even the Greens need to pursue a pro-business policy.

“Maybe as far as China is concerned, the priority will not be just foreign trade,” she said, “but the approach will be more cautious, especially when it comes to rights policies. of man “.

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