Merkel’s legacy: What does she want?

This is almost for sure the last term (some observers even claim that probably not a full term) for Chancellor Angela Merkel. In your opinion, what kind of legacy she would like to see at the end of her last term, what is she willing to do for her own legacy? Read few comments.

Chancellor Angela Merkel. Credit:

Matthias Dilling, Lecturer in Politics, Pembroke College, University of Oxford

In my opinion, Angela Merkel will try to convince people that her European, economic and immigration policies have been sensitive and successful in dealing with the major challenges of the past decade. At the European level, she has been one of the key political leaders during the debt and refugee crisis. The problems associated with both crises, however, have not been resolved yet. I would therefore expect her to make Europe one of her key priorities in her last term in order to leave office with the European project intact. At the domestic level, I expect her to consolidate the economic revival that Germany has experienced during her time in office and to specify her agenda for integrating the large number of refugees Germany has accepted since 2015.

In all three issue domains, however, Merkel will be facing difficult challenges that she will have to overcome for her legacy to be judged favorably. At the European level, the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is still uncertain. Moreover, the political developments in Italy, Poland and Hungary risks posing serious obstacles to finding a European approach to handle likely future waves of migration. The development at the European level is also likely to affect domestic politics. If we have a hard Brexit, the German economy might take a serious hit. This would come at a time when the public discourse in Germany has already shifted from focusing on the positive economic development of the past years toward questioning why this positive development has not improved the living conditions of those in precarious living conditions. Such economic inequality combined with the challenge to integrate over one million refugees bear the risk of further strengthening the radical right and thereby undermining Merkel’s European efforts from within her own country.

Hence, despite having led both Germany and Europe during difficult times in her previous three terms, Angela Merkel’s last term in office might very well become her most challenging one.

Ronny Patz, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Faculty for Social Sciences, Ludwig-Maximalian-Universität München (LMU München)

Merkel’s recent choice of a high-profile CDU Secretary-General – Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer –  was a clear sign that she is preparing for her succession inside her party, and potentially also for a succession in her chancellorship if Kramp-Karrenbauer is successful in her new party role. It is important to remind that Merkel’s own way to becoming chancellor was through the post of Secretary-General.

In pushing for a more gender balanced and younger cabinet, Merkel showed that she wants to manage her legacy by strengthening certain established but also new personalities, much more than by setting an ambitious policy agenda connected to her name.

In her fourth term, Merkel will probably continue in her usual style of ‘wait and see’, trying to consolidate her legacy of economically successful years while leaving more disruptive societal and economic transformation to the next generation, a generation that now has at maximum 2-3 years to emerge out of her large shadow.

Nevertheless, at the press conference on Monday where she presented the new coalition agreement, Merkel indicated that she sees the role of her fourth government to prepare the country’s economic and industrial transition to the digital age in a world with shifting power balances, a transition that in her view will involve all ministries and government agencies but with herself in a strong coordinating role.

The question remains whether a Grand Coalition that nobody really wanted will have the political impetus for such transformations. All three coalition partners – CDU, CSU and SPD – will try to raise their own profile against the other partners in the coming years, instead of pushing for collective projects. Merkel’s main challenge may not be so much in governing but in finding the right moment to hand over power – at least in her own party – ahead of the 2021 elections.

Eric Langenbacher, Teaching Professor, Department of Government , Georgetown University

To be honest, I don’t think Merkel is a “legacy” kind of politician. Just like she was not a “vision” or “project” person. Merkel is a very competent manager–perhaps the most competent, even scientific one Germany and Europe have had for quite some time. Her responses to the financial crisis, Euro crisis, migration crisis, Crimea/Ukraine crisis, Brexit have been masterful, stabilizing and calming–overall and eventually. I know her various positions and decisions have generated a lot of criticism at home and abroad–perhaps legitimately–but things could have been much worse.  She has protected Germans from most terrorist attacks and has avoided major wars. She has maintained prosperity, German values and stood for the worth of liberal democracy. She has not messed up a single thing and that does not apply to most politicians.

But, to be honest, I can’t think of a single major achievement that is really her own. The Lisbon Treaty? (Giscard d’Estaing) Energiewende? (Greens) Budget surplus/balanced budget amendment? (Schaeuble). Hartz IV/Agenda 2010 (SPD)? Minimum wage? (SPD).  And this is fine–politicians don’t have to always build a new museum or have a doctrine named after them to be hugely successful. In fact, maybe this is her greatest legacy of all–to not have attempted anything risky and new, but to consolidate a political and democratic order that has done much good for Germany, Europe and the world.

Christian SchweigerVisiting Professor Comparative European Governance Systems, Technische Universität Chemnitz

I think her main goal right now is to ensure that she stays in office long enough to become the longest serving chancellor in Germany’s post-war history. Kohl governed for 16 years and Merkel would reach this timespan in 2021. If she can stay on after the 2021 election, she will have outlived Kohl. This why I expect (in contrast to almost everyone else in Germany) that Merkel will also try to fight the next election. If she only stays on until the next election, which is likely to be in the autumn of 2021 she will have only matched but not exceeded Kohl’s period in office.

As Merkel is not very outspoken regarding her political beliefs I am not completely sure what else she would want to see as her political legacy. I suspect however that she is not only proud of having been the first female German leader but also of the fact that she managed to decisively shape the political discourse in Germany.
After all she moved the CDU firmly to the centre ground and even slightly into the SPD’s political territory and (at least until last year’s election) had become the consensus chancellor. Her name will nevertheless always be connected with the decline of the two “Volksparteien” CDU/CSU and SPD, the rise of the populist AfD (and possibly the latter’s long-term establishment in the German party system) and most of all her decision to allow a large influx of migrants into Germany in 2015 which has probably changed the fabric of German society permanently.

I do not think that it will be Merkel’s last term but in any case during this parliamentary term Merkel will try to regain support amongst voters by presenting herself as the leader who is addressing the issues that voters are most concerned about, most of all uncontrolled migration, shortcomings in eldery care and also in Germany’s digital infrastructure. I expect Merkel to successfully claim any progress in these areas for herself, which will further diminish the SPD, similar to what has occurred during the 2005-09 and the 2013-17 grand coalition governments.

Emily MansfieldAnalyst, Europe, The Economist Intelligence Unit

My sense is that Angela Merkel does not view her personal legacy as a priority, in the way that other politicians might, even in what will almost certainly be her final term. She typically manages issues as they arise, rather than having grand visions that she brings into practice, and self-promotion is not a major goal for her.

That said, there are things that she believes in strongly that might be said to be under threat right now. The rise of populist leaders, the risk of further uncontrolled migration into the EU and an increasingly unpredictable global order are areas of concern for her. Her top priority in her final term will be ensuring that Germany is well placed to face these challenges, that the EU is strong and well-placed to protect its citizens, and that the ongoing vulnerabilities of the euro zone are addressed.

Continued German opposition to fiscal risk-sharing within the euro zone means that Emmanuel Macron’s plans for euro zone reform are unlikely to get off the ground. However, I expect Macron and Merkel to work closely on EU reform proposals, including on defence, the banking union and protecting the EU’s external borders. Merkel will continue to take a leading role in shaping the bloc’s response to the actions of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, among others.

The policy agenda in Germany is unlikely to be dramatic under the incoming grand coalition, but we can expect higher spending on infrastructure, childcare and digital technologies as the fiscal stance is relaxed somewhat.

My view is that Merkel’s legacy will be more about the crises she successfully managed on her watch than the new initiatives she brought in.

Marcel Dirsus, Political Scientist, Doctoral Candidate, University of Kiel

This will definitely be Angela Merkel’s last term. It’s probable that it won’t be a full one. Her refugee policy is a huge part of her legacy — for better or worse. Some expect her to negotiate historic reforms of the European Union with Emmanuel Macron. I don’t. Merkel is cautious not simply because being cautious helps win elections in Germany — it’s her personality. She will attempt to bring order to Germany’s migration system. When it comes to France and the reform of the European Union, she will do what has defined her Chancellorship so far: Find a compromise.

Ed TurnerLecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University

It is not always easy to define particular policies with which Merkel is associated, partly because she has evolved into a centrist, pragmatic politician, one who judges competing demands and considers them in relation to public sentiment, rather than bombastically leading from the front.  Clearly her handling of the refugee crisis was an important juncture – successful integration of those who are staying in Germany but avoiding a repeat will be an important priority.  Germany’s integration into a strong EU represents another plank, but without embracing complete fiscal responsibility for the Eurozone.  Above all, I sense Merkel would like the CDU to remain on a pragmatic path and in clear first place in elections – her appointment of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as General Secretary of the CDU and quite possibly as Merkel’s favoured successor indicates those objectives very strongly

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