Is Chancellor Merkel a lame duck?

Discussion about Hans-Georg Maassen, Volker Kauder ousted as head of her party’s parliamentary group. What does it tell us about the position of Chancellor Angela Merkel? Some observers argue that she is becoming a “lame duck” and might even leave her position. Would you agree, or you see this differently? Read few comments.

Chancellor Angela Merkel. Credit:

Kai ArzheimerProfessor of Political Science, University of Mainz

I think these are two separate, yet related points. In the Maaßen affair, Merkel (and Nahles) underestimated what kind of public backlash the de-facto promotion would create. This shows that she may have lost touch, and also how easily Seehofer can blackmail the other two parties.

As regards Kauder,  Merkel has always relied on allies (most notably Schäuble) that could build bridges to various groups and factions, and has never been terribly popular with the parliamentary party. Losing Kauder against her express wishes is certainly a sign of her growing weakness and is also a blow in practical terms, because they had a very close working relationship. Having said that, the new man used to be Kauder’s deputy. While he may be more critical of Merkel than Kauder and while his success can be read as indicative of a certain disaffection within the parliamentary party (no wonder given the state of public opinion), he is hardly an outsider leading a rebellion against Merkel.

In sum, both events show that the current government will not necessarily survive for a full five years, and that the succession question is becoming more and more pressing, but I don’t think this is the end yet.

Matthias DillingLecturer in Politics, Pembroke College, University of Oxford

CDU chancellors have usually been most successful when they succeeded in aggregating and mediating between competing preferences within their party. This also applies to Merkel when thinking about her rise within the CDU in the early 2000s. After years of relative autonomy, Kauder’s defeat is a wake-up call for Merkel to 1) return toward a leadership that takes into account the preferences of the party’s parliamentary group and Land organizations more and 2) to communicate her decisions within the party better than she has been doing it in the past years.

Whether Kauder’s defeat transforms Merkel into a ‘lame duck’ chancellor depends on how she responds to this incident. Her political end has not come yet. She has still many supporters within the party. Also, Ralph Brinkhaus, Kauder’s successor as leader of the CDU/CSU’s parliamentary group, has not been part of those CDU members that demanded a fundamental departure form Merkel’s political course. Moreover, the political turmoil within the current government and the relatively long time frame until the next federal election disincentivizes Merkel’s opponents from seeking to take over in the immediate future.

Already before the 2017 election, it has been highly unlikely that Merkel would be running again in 2021. It has also generally been expected that she would resign before the next election to allow a new candidate to benefit from the incumbency bonus. The question therefore is not whether Merkel remains as chancellor and/or party leader until the next election but how much influence she will have over choosing her successor. This will depend on her response to the current situation.

Christian SchweigerVisiting Professor Comparative European Governance Systems, Technische Universität Chemnitz

I would fully agree that Merkel is now a ‘lame duck’ chancellor whose period in office might soon be over. The episode over the Maaßen appointment and the deselection of Kauder by her parliamentary party illustrates that she has substantially lost authority within her own ranks. I expect the battles with the CSU to continue, even if Seehofer eventually steps down. Most of the CSU and growing numbers in the CDU want to see Merkel gone.
If the internal divisions within the CDU/CSU continue it  could also drive the SPD to leave the coalition and either force early elections or a CDU/CSU minority government. I certainly think that Merkel’s days are numbered and that it would be better for the country if she stepped down and we finally had the opportunity for a new political beginning.

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

The events of the last weeks show that Merkel’s grip to power is getting weaker. In particular the unforeseen loss of the trusted head of her parliamentary group will undermine her position in the party and in government.

At present, her greatest strengths remain the support of the majority of the public and the lack of an alternative candidate who could follow her as head of party and government. If either of these change, it may open the door for ending her long career on top of German politics.

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

The new grand coalition has been (unsurprisingly or not) quite fragile. It seems that every dispute–however minor–results in dramatic speculation that the end is nigh. Back in June, there was a similar moment over migration policy. The various tensions are clear–between CDU and CSU, between the Union parties and the SPD, and perhaps most importantly within the CDU. And this is all in the context of the AfD and other opposition parties circling the wagons.

The Maassen situation was handled badly by all sides, but will likely not cause any lasting damage to Merkel or others. The Kauder incident was unexpected and a real blow to Merkel’s power–as she herself expressed. But, this is still not enough to lead to her fall.

I don’t think anything will happen before the elections in Bavaria and Hesse in October. Also, the fundamental structural constraint–who will replace Merkel?–still exists. No one in the CDU is strong enough yet. Of course, everything can change overnight–as the Kauder-Brinkhaus incident reveals.

I am not yet ready to bet on Merkel’s fall–but get back to me in November.

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