In these ‘insecure times,’ Merkel to seek 4th term
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday announced her intention to seek a fourth term in office.
Merkel, 62, is Europe’s most influential leader, a political centrist in the vein of President Barack Obama, her close and longtime ally. Her stature and diplomatic clout — along with her strong stance on equality and tolerance — have led observers to call her a potential counterpoint to rising nationalism and populism on both sides of the Atlantic.
Merkel on Sunday said she was flattered by those calling for her to assume the global mantle of liberal democracy after Obama’s departure. But she also called it “grotesque” and “absurd” to assume that one person can make a difference in a rapidly changing world.
Speaking about a global situation that is “realigning” after Donald Trump’s election, particularly in regard to Russia, she said, “No person alone, not even the most experienced, can turn things to good in Germany, Europe and the world, especially not a chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.”
Nevertheless, Merkel said, she had made a decision to run again after “endless deliberation,” in part to work in favor of political dialogue that is not characterized by “hate.” She seemed to suggest no other candidate could serve as a match for these “insecure times.”
“People would have little understanding if I would not again bring to bear all the gifts and talents which were given to me to do my duty for Germany,” she said at the party headquarters of her centerright Christian Democrats in Berlin.
By merely announcing, Merkel becomes the early favorite if not a shoe-in to win next year’s vote, a triumph that would make her Germany’s longest serving leader since Helmut Kohl presided over German reunification and the end of the Cold War.
But the methodical Merkel will also find herself swimming against the tide of resurgent nationalism, including in Germany. Although buoyed by this nation’s vast economic strength, she faces a serious backlash from her decision last year to take in nearly a million refugees from the Middle East. She must also contend with voter fatigue with political elites and incumbents.
Merkel, a pragmatist raised in former communist East Germany, was a trained physicist who became Europe’s decider. She has guided Germany to the height of its post- World War II clout, but has done so in a nonthreatening way that has almost always emphasized consensus building.
Merkel is no stranger to crisis — having, for better or worse, shouldered the brunt of Europe’s handling of the Greek debt crisis, as well as the standoff with Moscow over its intervention in Ukraine. But victory would mean difficult new challenges for Merkel — most importantly how to move forward with Britain’s vote to exit from the European Union without tearing the bloc apart.
And if Marine Le Pen, from France’s far-right National Front, stages an upset in next year’s elections in France, Merkel would find herself — and her centrist politics — more regionally isolated than ever before.
On the plus side, Merkel still enjoys enviable approval ratings of between 55 and 59 percent at home. But her popularity is no longer at the stratospheric levels seen years ago.
Although she has since toughened her stance on migrants, she has taken a hit over her handling of the refugee crisis.
The political fallout has played into the hands of the anti- establishment, far-right Alternative for Germany, an upstart party that has racked up wins in key local elections this year.