Angela Merkel – the liberal West’s last defender – has announced she will run for a fourth term as German chancellor in a national election next September after 11 years in power.
The election will be a tough one as the populist right, especially the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), gain popular support at a time the country gets polarized.
True, Germany has become Europe’s most powerful country. According to Forbes, Angela Merkel is the third most powerful person and the most powerful woman in the world.
But maintaining the liberal order in the Trans-Atlantic area won’t be a bed of roses. She’ll have to face tough challenges such as the US with Donald Trump as president, the future of the EU amid the current rifts, the consequences of Brexit, the migrants flows and the problems with Turkey, the euro crisis and the ties with Russia.
A poll carried out by Emnid for Bild am Sonntag newspaper showed 55 per cent of Germans want her to remain as chancellor for a fourth term, up from 42 per cent in August. According to the recent polls, the coalition she’ll probably have to face – a combination of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left – will hardly win a majority. Mrs. Merkel has a good chance to stay in office through 2021.
The chancellor enjoys a solid support but her ratings are not nearly as high as they were before the migrants’ crisis. She lost the support of Horst Seehofer, the premier of Bavaria, who wants to limit refugee flows. And the protests hit the country after the Berlin terrorist act. «Merkel must go!» the protesters chant.
At the recent EU summit, Mrs. Merkel supported the idea of EU sanctions to be imposed on Russia over Syria. At the same time, Germany has not lifted a finger to fight global terrorism. Its contribution into the operation against the Islamic State group has been limited to just six Tornado reconnaissance aircraft. Under the current chancellor, Germany gives priority to a standoff with Russia over the fight against those who kill people on its soil.
In the eyes of many potential voters the incumbent chancellor symbolizes a political establishment that has grown out of touch with the interests of common people disillusioned by the results of globalization and open borders. This time her party would have to «fight off attacks from all sides».
As the Guardian puts it, «she got plenty wrong about the migration crisis and her liberal approach contrasts with the anti-migrant upsurge elsewhere in Europe». If Italy leaves the eurozone or Marine Le Pen wins elections in France, Mrs. Merkel will need new thinking to save the project of European integration.
The chancellor’s success depends on the ability to adapt to reality and the availability of plan B to act upon in case the EU continues to fall apart. There are many tangible signs that the process has started. It’s widely believed the Union is actually on the verge of collapse.
With the US prone to isolationism under Trump, Germany will have to lead the process of shaping EU defense policy independent from the US. New European security structures do not have to a counterweight to Moscow. This is the wrong time to shoulder the heavy burden of increased defense hikes.
An arms race with Russia will result in great costs to undermine Europe’s unity and the leading role of Germany. According to George Friedman for Geopolitical Futures, «A confrontation between Europe and Russia would likely shatter the EU». With Obama administration in place, improving the ties with Russia would put Germany at odds with the US. But after Donald Trump takes office in January, it will no longer be the case. Nothing will stand in the way of Germany and Russia putting differences aside and focusing on the host of issues to unite them.
A new security agreement with Russia to address the whole range of security issues could be a factor to facilitate Germany’s leadership in Europe. As Europeans, Russia and the EU have more common interests in the field of security, while the US has its own list of foreign policy priorities.
The experience of Russia and the EU cooperating with each other appears to be forgotten nowadays. But facts are facts – Moscow and Brussels have conducted joint operations in Chad and the Central African Republic. They fought Somalian pirates together. Frederica Mogherini, the EU top diplomat, said the EU will pursue a realistic approach with Moscow and will not be pushed or pulled by anyone into a confrontation.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, calls for changing the policy on Russia. The so-called «pro-Russian» politicians gaining more clout in Europe. If Germany leads the process of Moscow-Brussels rapprochement, its position of European leadership will be greatly strengthened.
Lifting the sanctions against Moscow could eliminate an irritant in the Germany’s relationship with other EU members.
With Angela Merkel winning the fourth term, Germany will face a tall order trying to lead the «liberal Western» world. To do so, it will have to change its current policies and offer new innovative ideas. Changing its stance on Russia would be a factor to facilitate success. It’s no coincidence that the EU has already offered Russia cooperation on some issues Europe may find itself at odds with the United States. There may be a new era looming to change the Russia-EU relationship.