When Angela Merkel leaves office after Bundestag elections next month, she will have forever changed the course of German history. Merkel has steered Germany through a recession, the Eurozone and migration crises and the Covid-19 pandemic. During the Trump presidency, Germany’s chancellor became an icon for liberals around the world. Yet her legacy in terms of Germany’s domestic politics leaves much to be desired. And her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party has been left searching for meaning, with many voters now left wondering what the point of the Union is after Mutti.
On the face of it, Merkel’s insistence on reaching for consensus in German politics appears to be something to celebrate. Under her watch, Germany’s major parties have, generally speaking, principally agreed on the big political issues of the day, only diverging on timelines, what administrative measures should be taken and how much money ought to be thrown at the problem at hand. The vehicle for this quiet revolution at the heart of German politics was Merkel’s own party. In a decade or so, Merkel has shifted the CDU from the centre-right to the centre-left and infused with her essentially post-ideological understanding of government. But in doing so, she has left a gap in German politics.
To grasp the significance of this development, it is important to appreciate the role that the CDU traditionally played within the Federal Republic’s parliamentary system. Thirty years ago, when Merkel first entered the Bundestag after the country’s reunification as a relatively unknown, fresh-faced East German MP, the party stood for anti-Communism, civil liberties, law and order, Judeo-Christian values, European integration and a strong Bundeswehr embedded into Nato. These firm ideological convictions extended to opposing higher taxes, illegal migration, the minimum wage and gay marriage.
The Union had a clear liberal-conservative profile against which other parties formulated their own ideological positions.