By Thomas chambers,
Deep in the bowels of the Bundestag there are a number of growing concerns keeping the political class up at night. Angela Merkel’s in tray must be overflowing with issues ranging from Brexit, a resurgent right wing populism and the potential of further Russian aggression to the East. As the most influential nation in the European political landscape, Germany has had to lead a continent, which in recent years has lunged from crises to crises. Its leadership has been pivotal in Ukraine, the Greek debt crisis and the refugee crisis among others. This is in no small part due to the steady leadership of Angela Merkel. Having led the country for more than a decade, she is set to present herself as a candidate for the premiership again in 2017, in an election that could be crucial for the future of Europe and, in the aftermath of Trump’s victory, that could cement her place as the standard bearer of liberalism in the West.
Merkel has outlasted three British Prime Ministers and is the one constant amongst an ever-changing cohort of European leaders. The stability of her tenure is reflective of the role that Germany has had to play in Europe in the last few years. Her crucial role as the stateswoman in the European project has been recognised by the international media with Time magazine naming her the person of the year in 2015. She has steered the German economy and arguably the rest of the eurozone through the worst of the Euro crisis. She has taken a global approach to resolve the daunting problems of today, as demonstrated by her strong commitments to tackle global warming. She makes policy decisions based on methodology and rationality rather than visceral ideology.
However, her continued electoral success is in danger of being stifled. A culmination of issues may still derail her bid for another premiership in 2017: she has faced a slump in the polls due to recent terror attacks in Germany and must confront a Eurosceptic movement emboldened by the Brexit decision. There is no doubt that a challenging campaign season looms on the horizon. Merkel’s fate will not only determine the path Germany will take in the coming years, but will also shape Europe’s future, for the election of Merkel and the survival of the European ideal might be inextricably linked. After Brexit, pursuing the ideals of European solidarity will require the leadership of an individual dedicated to the cause and with the experience to navigate uncharted waters. Angela Merkel is currently the only European leader that has the vision and competence to pick up the challenge of maintaining a prosperous and democratic European Union.
Her stance on policy issues seems even more remarkable in the backdrop of rising populism, protectionist and personality politics manifested all over the world. If France succumbs to the populism of Le Pen, the forces of those who use hate and division as political currency will only be emboldened and threaten the values that bind our democracies together. In response, Europe and perhaps the world, need a leader who is mindful of these threats and will not be complacent in the face of populism and nationalism. A leader who when faced with tough challenges does not seek to find a scapegoat but instead works assiduously to find solutions.
The news that Merkel will contest the 2017 election provides some reassurance in uncertain times. Her most potent challenge to the premiership is posed by her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, with the current President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz being touted as a potential rival. Schultz has spent his career investing in the European project but this week he stated that he would not run for another term as European Parliament President. He has chosen Berlin over Brussels. This is a gamble given that he is not guaranteed to secure his party’s nomination. However, Schulz is the only potential candidate who present some of the statesmanship qualities we have seen from Merkel. Nevertheless, Schulz and other potential candidates will stand in the shadow of the Merkel, who has managed to strengthen Germany’s status a major global player. In dangerous times, we cannot risk the unknown.
Schultz would probably make a perfectly adequate leader, having a vast experience in European issues and having already been vocal on issues relating to Brexit. However, in a world that is spiralling into a new and volatile political environment, there is no place for uncertain gambles. A world with Trump as US President needs a global leader that can confidently represent democratic and progressive values and challenge populist views. That challenge can only be provided by the continuity of Merkel. While other leaders kowtowed to the American president elect, setting aside their disgust in order to curry favour with the new administration, Merkel did something radically different. She showed leadership and cunning. She offered to work with Donald Trump but made her offer conditional upon his respect for the democratic values she espouses. She reminded the president elect of Germany’s commitment to values such as freedom, equality and democracy, highlighting the “dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views”.
This is what the world needs right now. Someone not afraid to stand up against the demagogue in the Oval Office and stand up for the values of liberal democracy. The world needs a true leader, the West needs a liberal torchbearer and Europe needs true leadership and direction. All of these will be decided at the ballot box when Germans vote in 2017, perhaps shaping not only their own future, but that of Europe and the world.