Who will oppose Merkel?
Last weekend it became known that current German Chancellor Angela Merkel will run for the office once again. If things shape up in her favor, Merkel will head the office of the German Government for the fourth consecutive time and thus repeat the record of Konrad Adenauer, who was the Chancellor for 16 consecutive years. Still, it is difficult to predict, whether Merkel is able to stand on a par with the legendary former Chancellor, but the current starting positions allow her to hope for success. Despite fierce criticism of her immigration policy, which comes at a high cost for the German Budget and causes certain social tension in the country, many people associate stability, predictability and political welfare with Merkel’s era.
Most likely, the opponents of the CDU / CSU bloc in the next elections to the Bundestag will be the Social Democrats (SPD), who are currently in a single government coalition with the Christian Democrats. The key politics of the Social Democrats make it clear, that they are not looking forward to create a ‘grand coalition’ together with the Christian Democrats, and that they will not be satisfied with a role of a minor partner. Thus, the SPD’s Secretary General Katarina Burley said that "she has no idea, how her party can achieve joint success together with the CDU and CSU after 2017," making a broad hint, that the Social Democrats are planning their own political project. This project should become a ‘red-red-green coalition’, which, in addition to the Socialists, will comprise of the Leftists and Green Party. Yet, it is a big question, whether this ‘Left Alliance’ is able to create an effective government team. In addition, the inter-party differences over the domestic and foreign policy issues are quite strong. Moreover, each party has its own intra-party contradictions, which may affect the ultimate fate of the planned coalition.
In contrast to the Christian Democrats, who made a stake on Angela Merkel in November this year, it is still unknown, who will be the candidate for the chancellor from the Social Democrats. The name of the candidate must be officially declared on a party meeting in late January. The main favorites are considered the party chairman and Vice Chancellor of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. In this situation Angela Merkel also has certain political leverage that can give her an opportunity to choose a more comfortable opponent. The fact is that the future of Martin Schulz as the President of the European Parliament in many respects depends on the position of the conservative faction of the European People's Party (EPP), led by Merkel’s ally and member of the CDU, Manfred Weber. And if the Conservative faction in the European Parliament allows Schultz to work as a parliamentary president of the EU for another term, he will likely remain in Brussels. If the EPP insists to change Martin Schulz, as it was originally expected, in this case, the acting head of the European Parliament will build his political career in Berlin and can become Angela Merkel’s direct rival.
We should keep in mind the fact, that Martin Schulz has to make a choice in favor of Brussels or Berlin before his political fate in the European Parliament will be decided. Otherwise, he will appear before the publicity as a European politician who became unemployed and thus decided to try his luck in Berlin - not the best start for the election race. But by risking prematurely and making a stake on a political career in Germany, he will burn his bridges with Brussels and can lose in Berlin. Angela Merkel is a very serious rival, people have got used to her as to politician with all her pros and cons. At the level of the media and politicians she is often called ‘uncontested Chancellor’, and this is strongly reminiscent of the post-Soviet realities. A certain role in the German election will be played by the global processes and, in particular, the migration crisis, which plays into the hands of the far-right party AfD dividing the conservative electorate. For now it is clear that Merkel will position herself as a ‘pillar of the German stability’ in the background of the right-wing populists’ rise across Europe and victory of Donald Trump in the US elections.