With Donald Trump assuming office in January and UK preparing to leave EU, Angela Merkel is defending her position as Europe's pre-eminent leader
Berlin: Angela Merkel positioned herself as a force for stability in what she called “exceptionally difficult" and uncertain times as she ended months of speculation and announced that she’ll run for a fourth term as German chancellor.
Saying that she had weighed her decision “endlessly," Merkel broke her silence on her political future on Sunday by saying that she will seek re-election as chairwoman of her party and will then contest next year’s federal election. Merkel said that she intends to serve a full, four-year term, “as long as my health allows it."
“This election will be difficult like no other before it," Merkel told reporters in Berlin on Sunday evening after a meeting of the board of her Christian Democratic Union party. “We will be grappling with challenges from all sides, from the right as never before and from a strong polarization of our society."
With US president-elect Donald Trump assuming office in January and the UK preparing to leave the European Union, Merkel is defending her position as Europe’s pre-eminent leader amid unprecedented political uncertainty. A referendum in Italy and an Austrian presidential ballot in two weeks, followed by elections in the Netherlands, France and then Germany will all test voter appetite for populist candidates who promise to upset the established order.
Citing the refugee crisis, the conflict in Syria and Brexit, Merkel said that the EU faces “great tensions." The impact of the US election and questions over western ties with Russia add to “a global situation that, to put it lightly, has to re-orient itself." The result is she’ll be running in what are “exceptionally difficult and, one can also say, uncertain times."
The euro strengthened 0.4% to $1.0633 at 10:56 am in Berlin.
“This removes any last bit of uncertainty," Carsten Nickel, an analyst for Teneo Intelligence, said by phone from Brussels. “For the markets, it’s positive" and it’s reassuring for wider Europe, he said. “Even if they don’t agree on everything, people know her, they know what to expect from her." Teneo put the chance of a fourth Merkel term at 80%.
All the same, the chancellor said that it is “grotesque and absurd" to expect that any one person, “even with the greatest experience, can fix the situation for better or worse in Germany, Europe and the world—and certainly not a German chancellor." Her goal instead will be to work toward mending divisions in Germany. “Right now, I feel well prepared and have ideas," she said.
Merkel’s bid to retain the party leadership she has held since 2000 will now go to a vote at the CDU’s annual convention in the western city of Essen in early December. Assuming she is re-elected chairwoman, she will then contest federal elections in the fall of next year as her party’s candidate for chancellor.
“The decision for a fourth candidacy after 11 years in office is anything but trivial, not for the country, nor the party, nor—and I say this consciously in this order—for me personally," Merkel said.
Germany’s first female chancellor and its first from the formerly communist East has been weakened by a populist backlash against her policy of allowing almost 1 million refugees to enter Germany last year, a decision that fueled backing for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany. While the opprobrium heaped on her contributed to Merkel’s hesitancy over trying to extend her tenure as chancellor, she said the refugee crisis was not the sole reason for her deliberations.
The events of the last week look to have swayed her hand. A two-day visit by President Barack Obama on his farewell overseas trip underscored what’s at stake for Europe faced with uncertainty over the incoming Trump administration’s policy in areas such as free trade, Nato and Russia. Calling her “outstanding" and his closest international partner, Obama all but endorsed her to run again while saying that any weakening of the trans-Atlantic alliance would lead to a “meaner, harsher and tougher world."
Domestically, Merkel hinted at her electoral intentions by agreeing to support foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as the next German president. In backing her coalition partner’s candidate for the mainly ceremonial post, she signalled her preference for a possible resumption of the so-called grand coalition of her CDU and the Social Democrats that she led during her first and third terms.
Polls also suggest support for her bloc has stabilized as measures to curtail the influx of refugees and ease the return of those whose applications for asylum are rejected take effect. CDU/CSU backing was at 33% in the latest Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper published Sunday. That compared with 24% for the SPD, 12% for the opposition Greens, 9% for the anti-capitalist Left Party and 5% for the Free Democrats, her second-term coalition partner. The AfD had 13%.
The same poll showed 55% of voters favoured another term for Merkel, up from 42% in August. Among her own party’s supporters, 92% back her for a fourth term, while among women the figure was 66%. Even among SPD voters, 54% said they wanted Merkel to stand again.
Hurdles to her re-election remain. Any further terrorist attack in Germany linked to radicalized immigrants or the collapse of a controversial refugee deal with Turkey could upend her bid for the chancellery.
Another barrier lies with her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, which has been among her most strident critics on immigration. Bavarian Premier and CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who is pushing for an upper limit of refugees that she refuses to impose, has withheld his party’s support for her candidacy.
Bild Zeitung, Germany’s most-read paper, said in a commentary on Monday that this will be Merkel’s most difficult candidacy and that she’ll have to work to win over the country’s political middle. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany’s newspaper of record, said that Merkel had surpassed the zenith of her power domestically and internationally.
Along with Sunday’s first-round primary to select the Republican candidate for the French presidency, Merkel’s decision contributes to “a hugely important day for Europe," said Erik Nielsen, global chief economist at Unicredit in London.
Both events mean “we’ll get pretty clear indications of who’ll lead us though the next few years when the world order might change under Trump—and possibly dramatically so and probably not for the better," Nielsen said in a note.
Merkel’s decision “makes it even more likely that Germany will remain a pillar of stability in Europe," said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg in London. Germany’s strong economy and record-low unemployment mean “that the yearning for change is far less widespread in Germany than in many other countries in the western world," he said. Bloomberg
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