Germany’s federal election on September 26 will mark the end of Angela Merkel’s 16-year chancellorship and could produce a new government coalition. With various permutations possible, many are wondering what will come next for Germany, the European Union, and the broader international order.
In this Big Picture, Sigmar Gabriel, a former foreign minister and vice chancellor in Merkel’s government, argues that the election campaign has highlighted the lack of a blueprint for where Germany and Europe should go in the next decade, beyond the need to address climate change. But former foreign minister and vice chancellor Joschka Fischer thinks the election may lead to a new era in which German politicians will finally have to take high-stakes decisions. Likewise, former Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio thinks that Merkel’s departure may force the EU’s leaders to start making tough choices regarding rule-breakers and autocrats both within and beyond the Union’s borders.
But discontent lurks beneath the surface stability of German politics. Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations notes that German public opinion has soured on the country’s European policy, and urges the country’s political class to change its rhetoric before resentment boils over. And the Hertie School of Governance’s Helmut K. Anheier argues that even if Germany’s QAnon-inspired Querdenker movement fades, the alienation and distrust of authorities that have fed it are unlikely to go away.
As for Merkel’s legacy, the Brookings Institution’s Constanze Stelzenmüller emphasizes the chancellor’s steady purposefulness in keeping Europe, transatlantic relations, and the West together, and worries that her successors will fail to appreciate how important and effective this approach was.