William Cook

Who comes after Merkel?

Ursula von der Leyen could be the future of Germany’s centre-right

A year from now, 60 million Germans go to the polls in the most important general election in mainland Europe for a generation. The result will define German — and European — politics for the next four years. There are huge questions to be resolved, from the refugee crisis to the financial crisis, but right now the question in Germany is: will Mutti run again?

Angela Merkel’s nickname, Mutti (Mummy) is a memento of happier times. A year ago, her position as matriarch of the Bundesrepublik seemed unassailable. And then, last September, she opened Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of fleeing Syrians. Over a million refugees arrived last year. The reaction of native Germans could be measured at the polling booths. In last month’s regional elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Merkel’s constituency, her Christian Democratic Union came third. In local elections in Berlin, a fortnight later, the CDU polled just 17.5 per cent, its worst result in the capital since the war. No wonder Der Spiegel (Germany’s leading news magazine, and one of her most loyal supporters) is now suggesting it may be time for Mutti to leave the stage.

The Deutsche Bank crisis looks like another nail in Merkel’s electoral coffin. For ordinary Germans, Germany’s biggest bank has been a symbol of economic security. Still haunted by the spectre of hyperinflation, security is the one thing Germans value above all else. The decline of Deutsche Bank’s share price (from €30 last year to around €10 today) is bound to give voters the jitters, adding to the impression — already fostered by the refugee crisis — that Merkel is no longer the master of events. And so, for the CDU, a question that seemed academic a year ago has become much more pressing: can Merkel still win the next election? And if not, should she be persuaded to make way for a candidate who can?

The woman who’s setting the agenda in German politics right now is young enough to be Merkel’s daughter.

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