Chan­cel­lor Merkel’s bomb­shell hits Ger­many and Europe

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Opinion - Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege and author of “Af­ter the Cold War.” Arthur I. Cyr acyr@carthage.edu

Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel of Ger­many has de­cided to re­tire, a de­vel­op­ment that is pro­found not only for her na­tion but also for Europe. There are also sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­na­tional im­pli­ca­tions.

On Oct. 29, Chan­cel­lor

Merkel an­nounced she will step down as leader of her party in De­cem­ber and will not run for re-elec­tion in 2021. Her pre­ferred suc­ces­sor is An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, who would con­tinue on a mod­er­ate course. How­ever, the chan­cel­lor and her party have suf­fered ma­jor elec­tion de­feats and grow­ing po­lit­i­cal pres­sures be­yond elec­tion re­sults.

Chan­cel­lor Merkel has been lead­ing her na­tion with a “grand coali­tion” in­volv­ing her own con­ser­va­tive CDU/CSU (Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union and Chris­tian So­cial Union) and the SPD (So­cial Demo­cratic Party) on the left. The lat­ter is a party with his­toric roots in the so­cial­ist move­ment, but to­day with­out tra­di­tional em­pha­sis on na­tion­al­iza­tion of in­dus­try or eco­nomic class strug­gles.

Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Septem­ber 2017 were a set­back for the govern­ing par­ties. The far-right na­tion­al­ist AfD (Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many) Party made sig­nif­i­cant gains, win­ning 94 Bun­destag seats with over 12 per­cent of the vote. The Bun­destag, the lower house of the na­tional leg­is­la­ture, forms the gov­ern­ment.

The AfD had no seats in the pre­vi­ous par­lia­ment. This marked the first time this type of ex­treme party won par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tion since World War II.

The lib­eral Free Demo­cratic Party (FDP) lost all Bun­destag seats in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions held in Septem­ber 2013, a dev­as­tat­ing de­feat. In 2017, the party won 80 seats and could be part of a fu­ture coali­tion gov­ern­ment, as in the past. The left en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Green Party won 67 seats, a gain of four, and could be a fu­ture govern­ing part­ner.

Af­ter the 2017 elec­tion, Chan­cel­lor Merkel re­assem­bled the grand coali­tion. This is the fourth time since World War II such a ma­jor-party part­ner­ship has gov­erned.

In the 2013 elec­tions, the pow­er­ful CDU/CSU elected the most mem­bers of par­lia­ment, but fell five seats short of a clear ma­jor­ity. Dec­i­ma­tion of the

FDP, which had been a govern­ing coali­tion part­ner, led to the for­ma­tion of the grand coali­tion.

The de­cline of the ma­jor par­ties re­flects a broad longterm trend in Euro­pean pol­i­tics. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties tra­di­tion­ally strongly re­flected eco­nomic class, re­li­gion and re­gional in­ter­ests and sen­ti­ments. With the growth of post-World War II eco­nomic pros­per­ity, eco­nomic class fric­tions and as­so­ci­ated ide­olo­gies in­clud­ing so­cial­ism have gen­er­ally de­clined, along with na­tion­al­ism. Re­li­gion is also fad­ing in po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance in sec­u­lar Europe.

Re­gional sen­si­bil­i­ties have gen­er­ally grown, in some cases with dra­matic pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal im­pacts. The rise of the Scot­tish Na­tional Party in Bri­tain is one ex­am­ple. Po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in Cat­alo­nia in Spain il­lus­trates the same trends, in­clud­ing the dan­gers of vi­o­lence.

The Euro­pean Coal and Steel Com­mu­nity, pre­de­ces­sor of the Euro­pean Union of to­day, be­gan soon af­ter World War II. Eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion in­ten­tion­ally be­came a pol­icy in­stru­ment to en­cour­age po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and peace. In con­se­quence, no sin­gle na­tion dom­i­nates Europe to­day.

There is no rea­son for alarm if the pace of find­ing An­gela Merkel’s suc­ces­sor is slow. Mod­ern Ger­man pol­i­tics is de­lib­er­ate and al­most stud­iedly prag­matic.

Ger­many led by Chan­cel­lor Merkel pro­vides an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of fis­cal dis­ci­pline and pru­dence, ef­fec­tive mil­i­tary col­lab­o­ra­tion in NATO and hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief for refugees flee­ing wars else­where.

Her suc­ces­sor will have the ad­van­tage of a sta­ble demo­cratic base on which to op­er­ate. There will also be the ma­jor chal­lenge of equal­ing the record of this ex­tra­or­di­nary leader.

SERGEI CHUZAVKOV/GETTY

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel waves dur­ing meet­ing Thurs­day with stu­dents of Shevchenko Uni­ver­sity in Kiev. Merkel an­nounced this week that she will not seek re-elec­tion in 2021.

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