German society watchers will quickly point out that the locals resist change and value continuity. And for good …
German society watchers will quickly point out that the locals resist change and value continuity. And for good reason, if we look at the twentieth century: the outbreak and loss of two world wars, the second of which left Europe in ruins and the country divided between East and West. Thus, during the last three decades, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, marked the beginning of a Germany, stability was the main concern of the Germans.
Yet this Sunday’s elections to vote among members of the Bundestag, Germany’s national parliament, dramatic changes will occur – in the country, and perhaps for Europe and Germany’s place in the world.
The biggest change: the granting of votes which will lead to the replacement of the historic mandate of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel. The chemist-turned-politician will step down once a new chancellor has been selected, ending her 16 years as head of Germany. During Merkel’s tenure, Germany’s first female Chancellor oversaw a period of stability that made the country the world’s fourth-largest economy and a model for providing social safety nets, welcoming refugees and forging ambitions for the transition to a low carbon nuclear system energyless economy.[MORE: Countries With the Largest Refugee Populations]
Merkel was also given various political nicknames: the leader of Europe, and even the leader of the free world, a label that resonated during the administration of the former US president. Donald trump. She has succeeded in bringing EU member states together on various issues, including migration and financial crises, with the latter leading her to actively orchestrate economic bailouts and austerity measures imposed on them. Greece and Portugal. And under the leadership of Merkel, a skilled scientist, Germany itself has fared relatively better during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic than many other European countries.
“I wouldn’t call her the leader of Europe, I would call her the mediator of Europe,” says Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, vice president of the German Marshall Fund in the United States. “She has mastered the art of negotiating these compromises for 16 years, which has made her a unique figure in Europe.
Sunday marks the last day Germans can vote; voters were able to mail their votes for weeks. While Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has dominated German politics for decades, this year’s election is considered one of the most open in decades. The CDU is headed by Armin Laschet, a longtime ally of Merkel and deputy head of the CDU. The other big party, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), has a little ahead of the CDU in the last weeks of the poll.
But this election concerns more personalities than political parties. Laschet failed to connect with many Germans, and the popularity of the CDU has waned since he was appointed party leader. SPD leader Olaf Scholz is seen by many analysts as the most experienced candidate; He has been Merkel’s vice-chancellor and finance minister since 2018, with the CDU and SPD sharing power in a coalition government.
But neither party attracts poll numbers that come close to the majority, as other parties that have grown in popularity over the past decade have become strong contenders for any future coalition government.
At the start of the campaign, Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock had a lead in the polls, with the Germans seeing environmental issues such as climate change as essential to tackle, and the party itself moving towards the middle of the mainstream on issues supporting the country’s industries.
“You have a… candidate who says, ‘Let’s have someone else and they’re all about 30 years older than me,’ Kleine-Brockhoff says of 40-year-old Baerbock. “I think it appeals to a certain segment of the population who are tired of this kind of continuity politics.” The Green Party has fallen back to third place, and with a large proportion of voters saying they are undecided – about 1 in 3 voters were undecided in the latest polls – analysts are avoiding predictions.
“The polls don’t tend to show that there is a big possibility of swing,” says Kleine-Brockhoff. “There might still be hidden support for the CDU. It’s hard to know.
Managing the pandemic remains the main issue. But polls show the public is concerned about the country’s future financial health. During the pandemic, German leaders moved away from a philosophy of maintaining a minimum public debt to spend on programs to support the public and various economic sectors.
Germany is also more ethnically diverse and socially liberal than it was a decade ago, prompting a backlash that has maintained the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). a modest but persistent presence in the political landscape.
“Change happens in German society, but hardly ever when they vote,” says Daniel Hamilton, senior researcher at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute. “It comes between elections. And sometimes that causes new elections.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, observers say, is the need for Germans to realize that the world is very different from the one they are used to. Over the past three decades, Germany has benefited from a post-Soviet world order ruled by the West, with the United States playing the role of benevolent guarantor of security. But the chaotic fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the continued rise of China are just the latest signs that such a world order is changing, experts say.
“There is a huge disappointment in the United States,” said Hamilton, regarding the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. “And that sort of reinforces the question the Germans asked themselves during the Trump years, which is ‘Can we continue to rely on the United States?'”
Hamilton continues, “I would say we are entering an era of disruption, which is deeply troubling for a country that clings to stability and peace because of its history. The Germans and their leaders, he says, have yet to recognize that the global geopolitical landscape is changing. What these changes could mean for Germany can be profound.
“I think when this debate comes, and it does, then you will see a real change in (the) German approach to the world, but we are not there yet.”
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Elections in Germany: who will be the next Angela Merkel? originally appeared on usnews.com