op_anheier10_MARKUS SCHREIBERPOOLAFP via Getty Images_angela merkel Markus Schreiber/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
en English

Germany After Merkel

In state, federal, and party leadership elections this year, German voters may or may not offer much clarity about where they stand on some of the most difficult policy challenges facing their country. But there is no question that whoever emerges to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel will have big shoes to fill.

BERLIN – Donald Trump’s long goodbye from the White House is proving to be as painful as anyone imagined (complete with the outgoing president considering whether martial law could be used to undo President-elect Joe Biden’s victory), leaving the world little time to reflect on much else. But another important transfer of power is approaching in Germany for the first time in 16 years, and Germans are already preparing for “Superwahljahr 2021.”

In this “super election year,” there will be federal elections for the Bundestag in September, regional elections in six of the country’s 16 Länder(states), and an all-important vote regarding the leadership of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The latter vote will determine Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s successor as party leader, and that person will then be in a strong position to become the next chancellor. By the end of the year, Germany’s political leadership – and perhaps its broader political landscape – will be completely different than it is today.

Merkel, for her part, can look back at more than 15 years of guiding Europe’s largest economy and most populous country through long periods of stability and prosperity that were nonetheless punctuated by many crises. As chancellor, she dealt with three US presidents, two Chinese presidents, four French presidents, five British prime ministers, and seven Italian prime ministers, all while enduring many years of strained relations with Russia’s perpetual president, Vladimir Putin. Because German voters tend to prefer a cautious leader with a steady hand, Merkel fit her country’s collective psyche like a bespoke glove.