World, As Seen from the most beautiful islands: Ireland and Cyprus

How Germany slowly but surely became Merkel-tired


The speech in which Angela Merkel announced her phased retreat has already been deemed historicall in Germany. The German press expressed appreciation for her, although many are also Merkel-tired.

Most press conferences end up while they are going with a long bow in the trash can of history, if not that of Chancellor Angela Merkel, early this week. In Germany the speech immediately got the predicate ‘historical’. Merkel announced that she was to be the chairman of the CDU (Christlich Democratic Union), the largest party in the country: she did not re-nominate herself during the December election. She also wants to remain a chancellor, but she will be completely out of politics in a few years, when her reign is over.

At a self-chosen moment, sober and sovereign, Merkel himself marked the end of the Merkel era. As she leaves, no one surprises in Germany: everyone knew that she was working on the final act of her chancellery. She is now thirteen years chancellor and eighteen years CDU president. If she finishes her fourth term, she will be the longest-serving chancellor ever: seventeen years (from 2005 to 2022). Her mentor, the ‘eternal chancellor’ Helmut Kohl, reigned sixteen years, Konrad Adenauer fourteen.

What is surprising is how Merkel wants to leave the political scene: by staying at the same time as chancellor and stepping down as party chairman. That route is unexpected, because Merkel always insisted that chancellors and party presidencies are inextricably linked. It was considered a brand-native dogma. When SPD leader Gerhard Schröder resigned from the party presidency in 2004 but remained chancellor, she criticized it as ‘loss of authority across the board’. Schröder would indeed leave politics a year later after early elections did not call for a new chancellor for him – after which the Merkel era came.


Yet Merkel now does the same as Schröder at the time. With one difference, which, in her view, is crucial: unlike Schröder, she does not aspire to a political restart or a follow-up. This is the beginning of a definite end. She will completely withdraw from politics, she said – she will not accept any European positions. By being so clear about it now, she hopes that her person will not be a subject of controversy and that her construction, however undesirable, will work anyway.

Merkel’s step makes for admiration in Germany. There was also respect for the way she made her decision known: the sober but also personal and contemplative tone. I hear praise from politicians, commentators and columnists from left to right. ‘She shows greatness’, writes Ferdinand Otto in weekly magazine Die Zeit. The left Tageszeitung headlined: ‘We are going to miss her yet’.

That a socialist journal may be melancholy about the departure of a Christian democrat of liberal cut, says something about Merkel’s status, but also about her progressive profile (whether that is justified or not). Such an image is lacking among the candidates who are now in the race for the party presidency. Two of Merkel’s possible successors – Friechdrich Merz and Jens Spahn – are clearly more conservative. The third, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK in the vernacular) is Merkel’s favorite and content is closest to her, but also AKK has, at least on cultural themes, a right profile.

Merkel’s left-wing image makes her an ideal target for right-wing populists. The anti-immigration party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) spun yarn in the anti-Merkel vote among parts of the population. It has been the slogan for many demonstrations for years: ‘Merkel muss weg!’. Now that she has actually started her departure, that is no undivided joy for the AfD. For example, the current health care minister Jens Spahn, Merkel’s biggest critic within the CDU, the new party leader, is bad news for the AfD, said head of the party leader Alexander Gauland this week. Compared to Spahn, it is more difficult for the right-wing populists to profile themselves.

It is that CDU leaders in the eastern states are just happy with Merkel’s departure, observes Robert Birnbaum in Der Tagesspiegel. ‘That the coming elections, especially in the East German federal states, were threatening to run out of time on a settlement with the’ refugee chancellor ‘is obvious.’ Life for a CDU leader in the East will be much easier if you do not have to run Merkel campaign, says Birnbaum.

The Eastern CDU members are not the only ones who sigh a sigh of relief about her departure. “She finally understood,” writes Jakob Augstein in Der Spiegel. “Angela Merkel has announced the end of her political career,” writes Klaus Kelle in the magazine Focus, “and the only thing to criticize is that she did not do it much earlier.”

No success guarantee

Not only is there the aversion for Merkel among her opponents. Others are Merkel-tired too. It has its heyday behind it – Energiewende, open borders, European crisis manager during the Greek crisis and Euro crisis – and now continues on routine, is the impression of many. Even her voters often appreciate her because of the symbol she has become: figurehead of democracy in a world full of autocrats, beacon of stability in turbulent times. ‘The bitter thing was and is that since the re-election the lack of sense and strength has been felt by the chancellor,’ writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung. ‘Governance experience, seriousness and solidity are a beautiful trinity, but no guarantee of success.’

Merkel’s experience at the ballot box in September was both the biggest asset and the biggest problem of the CDU: with Merkel you knew what you got, but the CDU program did not come across as innovative, the ideas smoke to a whiter so, as in Germany was called ‘sneaking’: to continue uninspired on existing roads. The CDU was punished. Merkel was allowed to continue, but without a convincing mandate.

That plays its part. Not only did the formation go unprecedentedly difficult. Since Merkel IV started, it looks unstable. The government seems to be mainly busy with not falling apart. This impression is mainly due to the ‘asylum struggle’ this summer, when Merkel and her minister of interior affairs Horst Seehofer were diametrically opposed to the question of whether Germany could return refugees at the border. A crisis with reputational damage.

Merkels also crumbled in his own ranks. At the end of September, the group of the CDU / CSU did not choose Volker Kauder as its group leader, but another, against her express wish. A decline for Merkel, and a sign on the wall.

Now she voluntarily gives up her remaining power in the party. That seems to release new energy from the CDU. There is a mood of a ‘turnaround’, writes Die Zeit: Merkel has ‘released her party’ from herself. Prominent CDU members call for innovation. It is still unclear what it should look like. A dull successor for Merkel is not there, the question is in what direction the party should look for innovation: over left or over right? What lessons does the party draw from the electoral losses? In Hessen, the same number of voters walked to the AfD as to the Greens.

Merkel indicated that he could live with every new party chairman. The elections are an opportunity for a review, she said, a chance that the party does not often get. The fact that she does not want to determine this debate about that course and does not stick to the plush, is calling for appreciation in Germany. Commentators do not care much for their own future. Analyst Robert Misik sees two scenarios in Die Zeit. ‘Either Angela Merkel will remain a chancellor without power for a few months or even one, two years. Either she is displaced much earlier. That last possibility is most likely. “

Written by: Liam O'Reilly

Liam O'Reilly is the founder of the publication, a former analyst at a major reputation agency in the UK, who chose Cyprus as his home.

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