The post-Merkel era: Election 2021 takes shape

Damian Privitera

The German Bundestag election season has officially commenced, with the major parties choosing their candidates for the next chancellor in preparation for election day on September 26th. However, there is the noticeable absence of incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel, as she steps aside after almost sixteen years in office. An international figure of stability and authenticity, many Germans, particularly the younger generation, are finding it challenging to picture a modern Germany without “Mutti” (Mother) at the centre of German political life. Similarly, Europe and much of the world will watch on as Germany selects its next leader, a process which will undoubtedly rock the European Union. Since Chancellor Merkel announced her future intentions to retire from political life in 2018, Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and its sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), have floundered in their efforts to find a replacement candidate for the post-Merkel era.

Initially, it seemed Ursula Von Der Leyen, and later Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, were the leading “protégé’s” expected to succeed Merkel; however, both opted out of the race. Their absence has left the party struggling through an “identity crisis”, with this leadership void leading to a level of public disillusionment in German politics not seen for quite some time. With the COVID-19 pandemic substantially affecting Germany, dissatisfaction with the present government’s pandemic response has also impacted voters’ trust in the government. This has led many to believe that Germany will be left in unprecedented political disarray without Merkel’s stabilising presence at the helm of the Chancellery.

Laschet vs Söder

History favours the CDU/CSU alliance as Germany’s preferred governing partnership, with the coalition occupying the Chancellery for “57 out of 72 years” of the Federal Republic’s existence. Merkel, like past CDU/CSU heavyweights, has found success in a “centrist and pragmatist” approach to governance. Last week, the party coalition voted to elect the current Minister-President of North-Rhine Westphalia, Armin Laschet, as the CDU/CSU Chancellor candidate for September’s election. Laschet has been dubbed the natural successor to Merkel’s CDU/CSU leadership and is considered a “true Merkelianer”. This vote is significant for the party’s continued vision, as it highlights a show of support towards the “cautious centrist” as their best chance to unite the conservative and centrist blocs in true “Merkelianer” fashion. Laschet has stated that he stands for "a level-headed approach and avoiding extremes", a political stance that "turns toward people and does not turn its back on them". This is clearly a stance in favour of Merkel’s brand of policy.