Europe, and the World, Need Merkel in Office
A woman of indomitable spirit and Europe’s most consistently stable leader, Angela Merkel was recently named ‘the world’s most powerful woman’ for the eleventh time in twelve years by Forbes Magazine.
Germany’s economy is one of the strongest in the world. Its successes include record low unemployment (5.6 percent), a favorable trade balance in the US$ 250 billion range and a federal budget surplus today of a record 18.3 billion euros ($21.6 billion) for the first half of 2017. The world needs Merkel’s economic skills and self-discipline as German chancellor in the immediate years ahead. Her steady hand on the tiller and Germany’s strong economy have both been stabilizing agents since 2005.
If Merkel should ever lose power, a leadership vacuum in Europe will arise, according to Alexandra Borchardt, journalist for Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Merkel is very pragmatic, … exactly what’s needed in a union with so many countries with diverging interests. She can make things work for a continent facing crucial questions.”
There has been in recent years an unraveling of the liberal democratic post-second world war consensus into conflict and authoritarianism. Democracy and social harmony as defended by Merkel need to thrive again in 2018 across the world, including Europe. David Leonhardt of the New York Times terms what is occurring as “creeping authoritarianism.” It is Angela Merkel who can best confront this trend in Germany and across Europe.
An uneasy Europe would benefit from her continued leadership and refusal to kowtow to autocrats such as Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In her new book, “Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine,” historian Anne Applebaum has underlined how the genocidal murder of millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s is now affecting Ukraine. She also warns about an “anti-pluralist and anti-democratic mood” in some European countries. Who can better oppose such social influences than Angela Merkel?
Although pessimists warn that her popularity has waned, thereby signifying the beginning of “Merkeldaemmerung,” translated as the “Merkel twilight,” the pastor’s daughter, after three terms in office, is undeterred.
Financial Times journalist Guy Chazan emphasizes that she is “still…a rock of stability…a bastion of liberal values in a turbulent, Trumpian world. She steered Europe through the euro crisis and has presided over a long boom at home, cementing Germany’s reputation as the continent’s powerhouse.”
Last May, following President Trump’s first visit as president to Europe, Merkel noted that the continent would have to become more self-reliant. Another European view is that the trans-Atlantic relationship will be quickly restored after Trump. Merkel is needed to argue this issue.
The current delay in forming a government in Berlin is a problem for Germans, the EU and democratic world in general, partly because Angela Merkel is an acknowledged advocate for democratic principles, such as fair and free elections and the rule of law.
To govern, Merkel needs to form a new “grand coalition” (GroKo) with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) as it has done from 2005-2009 and again from 2013-2017. She stresses that Germany needs a stable government – a majority coalition rather than a minority government.
On January 7th, her CDU/CSU bloc and the SPD started exploratory talks on forming a new government aiming to decide whether or not to enter full coalition talks by January 12th. After twenty-three hours of negotiations, they came to an agreement, the terms of which the SPD Congress will have to approve on Jan. 21 in Bonn. Some 600 SPD delegates will vote on whether or not to proceed to full negotiations.
If Merkel’s bloc is unable to form a “grand coalition” with the SPD, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier could still nominate her to serve a fourth term as chancellor. The nomination would then be put to vote, which could result in her leading a minority government—something new for Germany.
Or—Steinmeier could call a new election—an almost unprecedented move. A multi-tiered process, it could drag out into spring and might help the far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) to make gains. Paul Mason from the Guardian suggests, “The only thing that’s going to [stop]… the AfD is an alternative for the people, for internationalism, for the active embrace of multicultural values and refugee support—and for social justice.”
Although neither a minority government nor new elections would be desirable, neither would result in a constitutional crisis. Merkel’s acting government has carried on day-to-day business in Europe’s biggest economy for four months.
Merkel has wryly observed, “I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the world is waiting for us to be able to act.”
The world is indeed waiting for this remarkable leader to be able to act, and all those who cherish democracy and social harmony are rooting wholeheartedly for her.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”