Angela Merkel – a woman with a political career which to most of her contemporaries remains a distant dream. Having served as the first female German Chancellor and leader from the Eastern side of the border, she is seen by most as commander of the EU. She has outlasted all of her companions in wider Europe, the G7 and Germany (with the exception of her finance minister and former CDU leader Wolfgang Schäuble). A rather dogged figure, Merkel has dominated post-war German politics like no other. She is not loud and eccentric. That is not her style. Instead, she likes numbers, excessive detail and fact. Her ten years in office have marked economic expansion, an international banking crisis, the near collapse of the Euro, political revolution in Greece and more recently, a refugee crisis of more than one million people. Throughout this period, she remained the quietly confident statesperson, a position which has gained her credit and respect from the outset.
Even today, Merkel is the brute force that glues Europe together. Without her negotiation skills and willing to compromise, the world would undoubtedly be a very different place. Even at the worst of times, she has kept firm to the belief in a more integrated Europe, a principle which is not widely shared by other north European conservative leaders.
Having made Germany the highest performing European economy, she has redefined Europe’s identity, but to a cost. Although expected to run for a fourth term, the question of Europe’s futures remains in the balance. After all, who will succeed Merkel as guard of the union?
Although the Christian Democratic Party is still riding high in the polls, the refugee crisis has eaten into her long-standing popularity with the German people. Having served as Party leader for 15 years, her influence stretches far beyond the borders of Germany.
As a socialist and enthusiastic pro-European I struggle of what to think of Mrs Merkel. Even though I agree with her that Europe should remain more integrated both economically, socially, politically and culturally, her persistence with widespread austerity measures have split the continent in two. This raises doubts over her priorities. Does she value the sound German economics of budget surpluses over a united Europe? Thankfully, this is yet to be tested.
After her spectacular third election victory two years ago, there was a sense of relief from all corners of the continent. Europe had been saved or at least given a while longer to live. I too felt bizarrely pleased that she had scraped passed the line. There I was, thankful that a Conservative candidate – the one peddling the giant wheel of austerity – the leaders which would crush any left-wing ‘coup’ had been returned to office for another four years (albeit as part of a grand coalition).
This year, Merkel has only faced one real challenger – Alexis Tsipras. He too had been elected dependent on a coalition agreement. Finally, Mrs Merkel faced a young and fresh faced new Greek Prime Minister alongside his leather jacket wearing finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Together, the two Greeks were the closest the European left had to Merkel. They both raised the question of democracy and the union – an issue Merkel’s followers had managed to keep quiet for a number of years. Suddenly, Europe was facing an attack from both the far-left and far-right and as its de-facto figurehead, Merkel was effectively pushed to the front of a crowd of squabbling ‘Eurocrats’ to crush these political uprisings which until now, had failed to materialise. Although SYRIZA failed to damage Merkel’s reputation, it leaves the question of who will succeed her as Europe’s de-facto leader once she is gone.
It will come as no surprise that Merkel is likely to run for a fourth term, after the assumption she would duck out sometime before 2017 was proved wrong. To many ‘Eurocrats’, this is good news. Her mediation skills will be in great demand. Her austerity drive however, may kill off the south and it may finish off the union. The German election in 2017 will either send Europe to a painfully premature death or reboot it for the following decades to come. Whoever Germans choose as their next leader, will face a monumental task of restructuring a broken currency whilst fending off an evident attack from the far-right.
Like with most crises, we have to prepare. The left must put forward a candidate that must be at least half as effective of Merkel. Otherwise, I fear my support and that of other pro-Europeans for her continued leadership will accelerate the pace at which her government is trying to spread the idea of budget surpluses, large private sectors and free-market neoliberalism to other states. I consider these to be by-products of her belief in closer union and yet, these are by-products which can be made easily avoidable.