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Europe will survive Merkel’s departure

Submitted by on 20 Dec 2018 – 11:26

Government Gazette caught up with Angela Merkel’s biographer, Matt Qvortrop immediately after she declared that she would not seek another term when her chancellorship expires in 2021. Days before Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was chosen to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU), he said Europe might have difficulty in finding a leader who is “quiet, calm and pragmatic” as Merkel, but noted that all three candidates in his opinion, are pragmatic German politicians.

As the head of the country’s biggest political party for 18 years, and its chancellor for 13, Angela Merkel has been very much a pragmatist, a politician who has always been interested in making sure that Germany ticks along.

While her critics might argue that her decision to let in refugees might have tarnished her legacy; in reality, Merkel is celebrated for her courage and compassion. Regardless of the mistakes she made in handling the eurocrisis , migration or Germany’s diesel scandal, her moniker as the ‘Queen of Europe’ is only half in jest. It’s inevitable that her exit will create a vacuum.

Speaking exclusively with Government Gazette, Prof Matt Qvortrup, one of her biographers — who drew a fascinating tale of Angela Merkel’s political ascent — says: “Europe will survive Merkel’s departure,” though Europe needs a politician who can symbolise stability, and Germany would “worry there isn’t somebody who is tried and tested in the way that she is.”

Merkel surprised everyone by announcing the end of her chancellorship, but how will her decision affect Europe?

While even some of the biggest critics of the German leader are worried about what will happen next, Qvortrup thinks both Germany and Europe might survive her departure.

Since Merkel has been a deep stabilising force in Germany, and political extremists are waiting to exploit her void, it is natural to worry who will succeed her and how the country will shape up in the years to come.

While Germany and Europe might have difficulty in finding a leader who is “quiet, calm and pragmatic” as Merkel, all three candidates who seek to succeed Merkel at the helm of the party, in his opinion, are pragmatic German politicians.

The German political system is based on consensus. Whoever comes in will have the interest of Germany and Europe at heart. Whatever is good for Germany is good for the EU and vice versa. Therefore, from a European point of view, there is little reason to be concerned.

As Qvortrup reassures — in the long run —there will be stability in Germany.

However, he says he would be “a little bit more worried,” if he was a British Brexiteer.

There are two scenarios one should consider, which will have equal results.

If Angela Merkel stays in office, “she will be in a position where she cannot make controversial decisions, she can’t give into the march, and she cannot be too flexible as it will not be approved within the coalition.”

Furthermore, in dealing with Brexit, Merkel has consistently used the German term “Rosinenpickerei” – a slightly stronger equivalent of cherry picking. She has been adamant that Britain will not get access to the single market without accepting free movement of people and without paying into the budget.

“Whoever takes over after her — including Friedrich Merz — who is a German business politician will not do it either.”

German businesses have been very adamant that there can be no diluting of the single market. So Brexiteers will not have any flexibility.

Cautioning Britain about the obstinate nature of German businessmen, Qvortrup argues that: “it is going to be more difficult for Theresa May to get any concessions.” So, it might be problematic for Britain. But, Europe will have nothing to worry about.

Europe will survive Merkel’s departure.

In his lively account of the woman with a doctorate in quantum physics who has become the undisputed Queen  of Europe, Qvortrup elaborated how she carefully outmanoeuvred her male colleagues and made Germany the strongest economy in Europe.

As leader of Europe’s most economically powerful nation, Merkel has been in power longer than most of her European counterparts. “She is still more popular in Germany than Macron is in France — with whom she has remained in good terms— and Trump  is in the United States or May is in Britain.”

The indispensable leader of Germany — what with her scientific approach to politics and highly rational thinking —has been an “embodiment of the middle” and has repeatedly demonstrated to the world that she can work with just about anyone, and maintain some of the toughest of relationships.

With a quiet, unassuming persona — that is unlike a lot of bombastic politicians —she wields enormous influence by relying on reason, cooperation, and networking.

The German chancellor doesn’t humiliate, intimidate or boast.

Her leadership style, as Qvortrup says, is very much summed up in the word ‘merkeln’, which was the word of the year in Germany in the year 2015.

‘To Merkel’ is to think about things, to carefully weigh up the pros and cons, and once you have considered and deliberated this, you make a decision.

A physicist by training, she was a research scientist doing pioneering work on nanotechnology. She also grew up in a very intellectual family. She has got a combination of scientific approach and rational thinking.

The pros of her scientific background, her traditional, German intellectual style and protestant thinking, he said, is that: “there will no tweets in the middle of the night or go off like a fire cracker, when something has to happen.”

Noting that Merkel played an impressive role in responding to the Ukraine crisis, much similar to the banking crisis of 2008, where she weighed up the consequences, in an extremely methodical manner, Qvortrup noted that Merkel didn’t have the luxury to do so with the refugee crisis, especially because she was more emotionally attached to it.

“Merkel is intellectually stimulated, and is highly evidence-based — which is relatively rare these days.”

However, there are issues which require a snap decision too.

It may help to consider a little known episode from her private life, which came during her divorce from her first husband, Ulrich Merkel — from whom she kept her name. The marriage had turned cold and the two scientists had grown apart but Angela Merkel was her usual self: kind, smiling and giving every impression that she was open to a solution.

“One day she packed her bags and left the apartment. She had weighed up all the consequences and analysed the pros and cons… and said: ‘If you don’t think this is working, then I keep  the washing machine and you keep the furniture, and I’m out,’ in a very pragmatic way.”

When Germany faces the divorce with Britain, “Britain will keep the old furniture and Germany will walk away with the high-tech washing machine.”

Her decision to step down perhaps reflects her introspective style of leadership.

Some people argue that it is the rise of the right in Germany. But, a lot of other people in the left of Germany like what she does. For instance, the fact that the Green party has risen in the Hesse elections last weekend is a case in point.

“The reason why Merkel’s party lost was because of the Green party. However, the Green party defended her immigration policy, and in some way she is closer to the Green party than her own.”

Acknowledging that Merkel’s demise started after the Hesse elections, Qvortrup said she would have liked to form a coalition with the Green party and the Liberal party.

The fact that she was losing out in the local elections meant that she would probably win the leadership of her own party.

However, “she would have only won by the low 70s or high 60s, percentage wise” and that might have been a “possible humiliation.”

Further, her recently chosen spokesperson in the parliamentary group did not win. She was weakened internally and decided to phase herself out. The logic behind her pragmatic decision to step down might have come from her logical recognition about her brand — which was not the electoral asset that it once was.

It’s certainly going to be tough when she actually steps down.

She was a capable enough physicist, but we are told she didn’t particularly like that. It was only when she discovered politics that she found her true platform — and it is going to be difficult for her to be retired.

While she is interested in opera and all sorts of arts, she is a 24/7 politician.

Being unsure of what Merkel might do after her powerful reign as chancellor; Qvortrup said he would like to see her as the president of the European Commission though Merkel says she has no plans to seek a post at the European Commission.