Germany’s golden age is over, most Europeans think, as Merkel leaves

Chancellor Angela Merkel, a popular leader, shakes hands with the crowd alongside former US President Barack Obama during a visit to the United States

JIM WATSON | AFP | Getty Images

Under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany’s power and influence in European and world affairs has been unmistakable.

Now that she is stepping down after 16 years, many Europeans believe the country’s “golden age” is over, including a majority of Germans, according to a recent poll.

The survey, carried out by the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank in 12 EU countries at the start of the summer and the results of which were published this week, found that Europeans still see Merkel as a force. unifying and expect Germany to continue to play a leading role in the EU. Nonetheless, there is pessimism at home and abroad about Germany’s future after Merkel.

The poll found that many Europeans see Germany as a declining power – and neither does Germany, where a majority (52%) believe their country is past its “golden age”. Only 15% of those polled in Germany said they thought their country was still in its ‘golden age’ today, and 9% of those polled said it was still to come.

Across Europe more broadly, a third of Europeans (34%) polled said the German star is fading, 21% said it was in its ‘golden age’ today and only 10 % thought this period was in the future.

The data highlights the uncertainty of Germany and its neighbors over the country’s future, as well as its de facto leadership of the EU, once Merkel steps down after the federal elections in the September 26.

Merkel vs. Macron

Despite some controversial policies, Merkel, 67, is stepping down on her terms. She remains a popular figurehead in Europe, and far more so than her French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, although analysts expect Macron to try to fill a leadership void left by Merkel.

When the ECFR asked respondents who they would vote for in a hypothetical contest between the German Merkel and the French Macron for a post of EU president, the think tank found that a majority of Europeans ( 41%) would vote for Merkel, and only 14% would vote for Macron (the remaining 45% said they didn’t know or they wouldn’t vote).

The highest support for Merkel in this hypothetical election was found in the Netherlands (58%), Spain (57%) and Portugal (52%). Even among the French, 32% would vote for Merkel and 20% for Macron.

It is perhaps not surprising that there is such a lasting attachment to Merkel. She is seen as a stable, pragmatic, and calm pair of hands in times of crisis – and she has had a few to deal with during her tenure.

Merkel guided Germany, the euro area and the EU as a whole through several traumas, including the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the subsequent sovereign debt crisis in the euro area which peaked around 2012 and the 2015-2016 migration crisis. More recently, she played a leading role in Europe’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and, along with Macron, oversaw the EU’s stimulus package.

French President Emmanuel Macron (2nd left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) watch US President Donald Trump (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) walk past them during a photo family as part of the NATO summit at The Grove Hotel in Watford, north-east London on December 4, 2019.

Christian Hartman | AFP | Getty Images

Merkel’s policies in times of crisis have not always won over her friends, however. She became something of a hate figure in Greece during its debt crisis as Germany advocated that tough austerity measures be imposed on Athens as a condition of international bailouts.

Meanwhile, his decision to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, to enter Germany during the migration crisis also caused consternation in the country and was widely seen as bolstering public support for the right-wing party. Alternative for Germany.

Future leaders

One of the big unknowns about her departure is how Germany’s relations with the rest of the EU and the bloc’s de facto leadership might change once Merkel leaves office.

In the latest ECFR report titled “Beyond Merkelism: What Europeans expect from post-election Germany”, published on Tuesday, authors Piotr Buras and Jana Puglierin note that the post-Merkel political leadership in Germany will have no other choice. than to change its role in, and relations with the EU.

“Merkelism is no longer viable and the next German Chancellor will have to find another way forward,” commented Piotr Buras, co-author and head of the Warsaw bureau of ECFR.

“Merkel may have deftly maintained the status quo across the continent over the past 15 years, but the challenges Europe faces today – the pandemic, climate change and geopolitical competition – require radical solutions , not cosmetic changes. What the EU needs now is a visionary Germany that will defend the values ​​of the bloc and defend its place in the world. “

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