German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated she will not lead her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and will not be re-elected as its chairwoman in December. When her term of office ends in 2021, she would not once again run for chancellor or Bundestag MP. The statement of Merkel means that she has worn thin and does not have a clear vision of dealing with the challenges, faced by Germany and the European Union. This also suggests that the power structure in Germany might seriously change after the next parliamentary elections, or even earlier, if the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) or Christian Democrats’ partner, Christian Social Union (CSU), will leave the ruling coalition.
After Merkel leaves the post of CDU chairwoman, the party course might be changed. The chairman of the party coordinates its activities, influences the formation of a political program, a common vision of the state course. Who will succeed Merkel as the CDU chairwoman? The change of elites in the ruling German party is essential for Ukraine and Europe as a whole. After all, Germany, which is Europe’s strongest economy, takes part in the Normandy Four on resolving the armed conflict in Donbas, sets the mainstream processes of European integration.
Why Merkel leaves politics?
Back in early October, Merkel planned to submit her candidacy again for the CDU presidency, because she believed that she needed to personally lead the party to effectively manage the country. A significant part of the CDU members wanted her to be their leader for another term. Apparently, Merkel changed her decision after seeing CDU’s results on the regional elections, which showed that the level of trust among the Germans in the ruling coalition has fallen. In the last elections to the Hesse Landtag, the CDU has won 27% of the vote, which is 11.3% less than the results of the previous vote in 2013. Christian Democrats’ partner SPD has suffered a crushing defeat (the number of votes decreased from 30% in 2013 to 19.8% in 2018). Part of the CDU and SPD voters preferred to support the Greens (19.7%) and the Alternative for Germany (13.2%), which are trying to come to the top of German politics. Today, the Alternative for Germany has its representatives in all the 16 Landtags and has the largest fraction in the Bundestag among the opposition parties. The Greens are present everywhere except for the Landtags of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saar, and in the Baden-Württemberg, they have their largest faction. The Germans are tired of the quarrels of the CDU, CSU, and SPD coalition and the inability of the authorities to resolve the migration crisis.
By refusing to run for the CDU chairmanship, Merkel demonstrates that she cannot overcome the clashes within the coalition concerning migration crisis settlement or offer an alternative to the open door policy. The leader of the CSU party and Minister of the Interior Horst Lorenz Seehofer proposed his arrangement for solving the migration crisis: not to accept refugees who have already registered on arrival in other countries and strengthen security at the border with Austria. As a result, Merkel, Seehofer, and the Social Democrats leader Andrea Maria Nahles agreed to continue welcoming refugees, to place them in special transit centers or camps, while the question on their returning to EU country, which they entered first, is considered.
German businessmen are dissatisfied with the situation in the ruling coalition, they fear that the weakening of Merkel’s positions could have negative consequences for the German economy. After she announced her plans to withdraw from politics, the euro fell by 0.4% against the dollar.
The political course of the CDU needs to be changed, and if they do not take place, their competitors might come to power in 2021. The Green Party has an alternative vision of migration policy, it suggests a "talent card" plan, which provides for the integration of refugees into the German labor market.
Alternative for Germany offers to restore border controls at borders with neighboring European countries, create a special border police, ban asylum seekers from transporting their families to Germany, close the external borders of the EU for refugees and migrants. There is an opinion that Alternative for Germany has lured about a million CDU voters and half a million Germans who had previously voted for the SPD. Strengthening the far right in the political arena might affect the EU’s development.
CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer might become Merkel’s successor. She has the reputation of being Merkel’s heir, so she would follow the instructions of the Chancellor and would not create any extra problems. Germans even call her “Mini-Merkel.”
In her opinion, Christian Democrats are not responsible for the migration crisis, since it began of its own volition. Following Merkel, she supports the idea of a pan-European solution to this problem. Similarly, another Merkel’s favorite – German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who proposes to attract the Bundeswehr to train refugees. In April 2018, the minister said that in order to resolve the conflict in Donbas, the West needs to pursue a tighter policy towards Russia in order to force it to comply with the Minsk agreements. Von der Leyen assures, Germany will not lift the sanctions until the process of resolving the conflict begins. Nevertheless, back in 2015, she opposed the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine, fearing the conflict would escalate, and urged Moscow and Kyiv to resolve the crisis through negotiations (which has not happened so far). Although von der Leyen calls for collective pressure on Russia, she supports Merkel on the implementation of Russian Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project, believing that Germany has an independent energy policy, and President Donald Trump with his criticism is not a boss for the Germans.
For Ukraine, it would be more preferable that the German ruling party was led by people, ready to help tighten EU sanctions against Russia and freeze the implementation of the Russian Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project. In this regard, Jens Spahn, currently serving as Federal Minister of Health in the fourth Merkel cabinet, and Friedrich Merz, who announced his candidacy in the CDU leadership election in December 2018, might seem more acceptable candidates than representatives of the liberal wing of the CDU. However, this might not happen if the differences between the US and the EU on trade issues deepen, and German politicians begin the rapprochement with Russia.