It was no news to anyone that Chancellor Angela Merkel would not again run for a fourth term at the helm of the German government because of the poor results achieved by her party, the CDU, in last September's elections and especially the enormous difficulties in the formation of a stable government (to the astonishment of the European Commission) uncovered that the Merkel era was approaching the end.
What no one expected, as the commentator and political analyst Francisco Seixas da Costa pointed out to the Economic Journal, is that Angela Merkel would choose to signalize this exit so long before it supposedly happened (September 2021), knowing how it can not fail to to know that its decision entails a series of consequences, none of which seems to be particularly beneficial to both Germany and the European Union.
The poor results in the regional elections in Hesse and Bavaria (in this case by the end of the five-year absolute majority of the brother party CSU) are not sufficient to explain the decision. And even if the serious case of misunderstanding between Merkel and his Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer (another one defeated in Bavaria) about the refugee crisis, the explanation is still short, as Seixas da Costa said.
The first alarm bell over Angela Merkel's decision not to run for the party's leadership at the next congress (scheduled for December) was a call from the European Commission for the German government to maintain the stability of the course it has pursued since taking office.
According to Seixas da Costa – ambassador with a great deal of knowledge of the European political corridors, it is clear that the German government will not jeopardize its program, Europe's appeal has to do with the feeling that something is falling apart . "There is something here that has to be read more closely," he says, to conclude that it is within the party itself that it is necessary to seek the explanation for such an unexpected act.
It is that the first consequence of Merkel's decision "is to create a bicephaly" that is not a feature of German party life. From the December congress, Angela Merkel will be the chancellor via a party that will be led by someone else – and for now, it is not worth the commentators to stop to find out who this person will be, given that There's a lot to know.
And that may be the beginning of a major problem for the German government – which will certainly go through a phase where ministers will not all support the same candidate for succession, which may turn intra-government life into an unnecessary headache. In this context, the first question to ask is whether Merkel's government will be able to survive until September 2021.
The answer is 'maybe', but Seixas da Costa has the most serious doubts. Merkel's decision puts her in a sort of country's day-to-day management – which, in this case, is the government program, which will not be pinched, but without the encouragement to launch, because it will no longer be yours, the future of government. Merkel "will be subject to all the attacks, because she will not fight for another victory" and that will make all the difference, in a place where the iron pulse is a primordial condition to do a good job. "Not even the power itself presages the notion that people leave."
Angela Merkel's major internal problems in the party are unknown – but analysts say there will always be a before and after the Chancellor's decision to open the country's gates to refugees trying to escape the war in Syria. For all intents and purposes, the party goes to the fight without anybody who can clearly put itself in the position of a sort of 'natural heir', as it was, but no longer, former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
Or, bluntly: the chancellor's departure "creates a fragility in terms of her political authority" that only a very serious case within the party may have led her to ponder. And this crisis is also bicephaly: it has repercussions on internal politics, but also metastasizes in the common policy of the European Union.
From the internal point of view, the war is likely to increase in tone. What would be normal and not particularly bad if one did not confluence at the same time some factors that together can be worrisome. The first is the fragility that affects the one who was to be the largest opposition party but who eventually 'embarked' on yet another major coalition with the CDU: the Social Democrats of the SPD. The party has been in permanent crisis since last September, when not only lost the elections but also lost the one who aspired to be its charismatic leader, Martin Schulz.
The negotiations that led to the conclusion of yet another major coalition at the center of the political spectrum did not go well with the SPD either – with Schulz trying to dodge a ministerial place and having to leave without glory or charm through the back door. According to the polls, the Social Democrats are still worth the same percentage and votes that were valid in September – if they are not worth even less, to see the poor results they achieved in both Bavaria and Hesse.
In any case, the fragility of the SPD may be the guarantee that Merkel will be able to survive politically by September 2021. Otherwise, the party could not resist the temptation to end the coalition to provoke elections – in the attempt to become the most voted party.
That is, and as Francisco Seixas da Costa said, the SPD is not at present an alternative to those who, disgusted by the history of the recent CDU period, intend to try anything new.
Now, something new is right there: the Alternate Party for Germany (AfD), an ultra-right party that made a splendid entry into the German Parliament (it was the third party with the most votes, securing 92 seats). shown capable of producing good results in the regional elections that have taken place. "The CDU is the party that can most contribute to the increase of AfD," says Seixas da Costa, at a time, he recalls, in that the SPD is not an alternative to anything.
For AfD, a substantial part of the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) could also contribute, a kind of 'crutch' for the absolute majority of the most voted formation (which was only relevant when the CDU or the SPD, no matter which one, absolute) and that it has had a provision to forget in the most recent regional elections – even in Hesse, where it comes from.
In this context, the weakening of the CDU induced by Merkel's decision opens a huge window of opportunity to the growth of ultra-right nationalist, xenophobic and Nazi Germany – which is, as agreed Seixas da Costa, a bad news for the European project. But perhaps Merkel will remain until 2021 as the parties forming the coalition have no good reason to end the coalition that holds them in power, however much they may no longer see each other.
And this is where German internal policy bridges the internal politics of the European Union. In a context where the European project is suffering one of the biggest, if not the greatest, attacks by Eurocetes, now clearly and not cloaked in anti-Europeanism, a possible European motor trip to the far right side – where "Italy, one of the founding countries of the European Union" is already present – can be the 'water drop' that will cause the joint project to suffer a blow that it may not be able to rise.
But this is a catch phrase. For now, Merkel's weakness will be that the chancellor loses the voice of command he had in Europe. "Everyone will be worried about who will be the figure who will replace Merkel. And that will make some noise in the alliance policy with Germany. Countries will start playing in future bets. For the German voice in Europe and in the world, this is not exactly good news, "says the political analyst.
In this context, what is the future of the European project? "That's the million euro question," says Seixas da Costa. "We do not know what the future of Europe will be, particularly taking into account a factor that I would not say new but which is new in the dimension of its expression, which is the emergence at the level of governments and parliaments of disruptive tendencies regarding what is the standard of values and principles of Europe ".
For all intents and purposes, this decision by Merkel will serve as an encouragement to these "disruptive tendencies," which have already announced that they want to gain a strength so far never seen in the European Parliament that has elections scheduled for May next year. And here is repeated the same temptation that exists in Germany: the transfer of votes from the right-wing parties to those who take a Euro- pean or anti-European stance, at a time when these formations have just 'come out of the closet' and struggle with increasing fervor for radical change in the assumptions of the European Union.
"Sectors of a traditional democratic right may feel the call to work on a radical record. There is a displacement of the electorate that traditionally voted in a moderate way for institutional forms of political expression that surpass democratic referents. And this is very complex and opens the question of whether traditional democratic parties are able to call this electorate back to the light of a mobilizing agenda, "says Seixas da Costa.
The response to this ambassador's concern is in the more recent examples of traditional hard right parties – such as Les Republicains in France (Sarkozy's party) or even the CSU in Germany – that instead of trying to call the electorate for reformism who characterizes them, chooses to bring his speech to the extreme right "in matters such as refugees, immigration and terrorism."
"The parties at the center, more right or center, have not been able to find a sufficiently convincing register for an electorate that is scared," he emphasizes – and that is the great asset for right-wing extremists in the European Parliament elections next year.
The other powers
As always, not all analysts are longing for the times when Merkel ruled Europe. The chancellor's detractors say that the self-induced fragility of their power will stop what they call the 'Germanization' of Europe. This Germanization – which even suffered a severe blow after Mário Centeno, the Portuguese finance minister, was co-opted to direct the Eurozone – had two objectives that Berlin never took the trouble to deny: putting a German in the lead European Parliament and another on the governance of the European Central Bank.
It is certain that this is not supposed to happen – two people with the same nationality leading the two bodies – and according to analysts, Merkel 'chose' to lead the European Commission whose term ends for the year, it being known that Jean- Claude Juncker is retiring.
Jens Weidmann, the chairman of the Bundesbank, the German central bank, came to be singled out as the leading candidate for Draghi's succession in November 2019, but, according to this never-contradicted news, and given the evidence that France and Italy Merkel would have preferred the European Commission.
The decision had the benefit of 'heating up' the race for leadership of the ECB, which already has a number of candidates: from France, IMF general director Christine Lagarde, Bank of France leader François Villeroy and executive director of the ECB, Benoît Coueré; Klaas Knot, leader of the central bank of that country; Erkki Liikanen, former central bank governor, and Ollie Rehn, the current governor of the institution and former European Commissioner for Economic Affairs.
For the European Commission, Merkel also had a candidate: Manfred Weber, who presides over the largest political group in the European Parliament and has already assumed that he wants to be the next president of that body, replacing Juncker. Slovak Maros Sefcovic (Vice-President of the Energy Union Committee) could be his most serious competitor on the left-wing side of the Commission leadership. Or Frans Timmermans, also Vice-President of the European Commission since 2014 and former Dutch Socialist Foreign Minister.
The European Council will also change hands in 2019 (together with Parliament, the Commission and the ECB), but Berlin seems to consider that the real center of common power lies in the Commission and not in the place currently occupied by Donald Tusk.
The United Kingdom still
According to international analysts, the remaining members of the European Union with some power – read France, Italy and Spain – may want to take advantage of Merkel's fragility to put a brake on Germanization and even reverse it in favor of other geographies. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, may be the toughest on this front and the truth is that there are few competitors at his side: the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, is not the one who truly controls internal politics – this role is increasingly in the hands of 'his' Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini – and therefore does not have a personal agenda in European terms.
Already the head of the Spanish government, the Socialist Pedro Sánchez, could be a serious candidate to assume a kind of moderate left-wing prince (place already occupied by Tony Blair before embracing pure and hard liberalism and by the Italian Matteo Renzi before giving out of his own career because of a referendum on a subject with little interest). But Sanchez is too involved in internal affairs, and he is likely to have to face elections in the short term, so his position does not allow him to 'European interests' – no matter how much he has tried to give an air of your grace 'on the issue of refugees.
Mr Macron has a valuable asset on his side: he is, for all intents and purposes, one of the few European leaders – and the only one of them – who has tried to keep open the way for dialogue with British Prime Minister Theresa May, and it is, on the other hand, the UK's best chance of keeping a (very) small bit of hope in a 'Brexit' with an honorable agreement for both parties in obvious litigation.
If the French president engages in any miracle that would allow such an agreement, his position as leader of the European project will be tremendously strengthened and, in a scenario where Merkel is no longer his most direct and fierce competitor, this can make all the difference.
On the other hand, Emmanuel Macron has managed to signal to other world leaders his desire to be an autonomous voice in the leadership of the European Union. The international contacts he has undertaken range from the Chinese president to the Russian prime minister – and France is in a position of prominence on such diverse stages as the group that has a solution for Syria, Iran, Israel and even the Libya. It fails him perhaps to the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey and, of course, the United States – where Donald Trump does not seem to take it into consideration.
Macron has also shown work in terms of the ability to retain the temptations of the ultra-right in domestic politics: not only to defeat the former National Front of Marine Le Pen, but also to do so without recourse to a speech in line with the ultra right-wing it is after all, as Seixas da Costa emphasized, what Les Republicains de Sarkozy is doing.
And then there is always the atomic bomb or, in other words, there is always the fact that France is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, where in a short time it will become the only representative of the European Union. And this, as all analysts know, counts more than what may seem at first glance and can give the French voice a picture of influence that no other European country can aim for.
And this seems to be the most reasonable scenario, or the least penalizing, for the common European project. Because, as Seixas da Costa said, the fact that Angela Merkel has announced that she will not run for party leadership has as its main consequence the opening of a door – already half-open – to alternative projects that will overthrow the European Union in the form as it was thought in 1957 and has evolved to the present day.
The changes that a populist majority might want to introduce into the common environment would have as a consequence – and whether they were the destabilization of the economy, at a time when sustained growth remains a mirage. The growth figures for both the European Union and the Eurozone for the current year – which are constantly revised downwards – show that the weaknesses arising from the 2008 crisis are still far from being subject to any other avalanche that crosses the common path.