Germany: Merkel's last Play

Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady
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There is a saying that you cannot put a good man down. This has to be changed to you cannot put a good woman down, as Angela Merkel has returned to the international stage with a path to her fourth term opening up and her enemies in retreat. This has not been easy for Merkel, with weeks that began with the collapse of coalition talks, intrigue and finger-pointing but ended with the fighting chancellor telling her European Union partners that Germany is back to business as usual.

The Social Democrats, her government partner during two of her three terms, backed off from their not-this-time attitude to another coalition deal and polls suggest Merkel’s popularity among party supporters is intact.

After being written off by many pundits ,this may be another defining moment for the 63-year-old chancellor who has defied expectations of her demise before, even as strategic defeats and enemies pile up after 12 years in office.

The latest left licking its wounds is the Free Democratic Party (FDP) , a one-time ally of her Christian Democratic Union(CDU ) that walked out of coalition talks in a blaze of anger. But this was all smoke and mirror as there’s nobody of stature in the FDP right now who would dare to challenge her. But it was a close call .

The FDP exposed the soft underside to Merkel’s power base with its decision to abandon talks with her Christian Democratic-led bloc and the Green party.

Two senior CDU officials said they judged the FDP leader Christian Lindner was trying to stir up a party revolt against Merkel after her group’s vote slumped by almost 9 percentage points in September’s vote.

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The FDP denied trying to bring down Merkel, saying the talks foundered over policy disagreements. One CDU official said Merkel’s backers are concerned that 38-year-old Lindner could grow in stature to become Germany’s version of Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old Austrian chancellor-elect who won his country’s election in October on an anti-immigration platform.

But the episode appeared to harm the FDP more than Merkel. Her approval rating after the coalition fiasco slipped 3 percentage points to 54 percent, while Lindner’s tumbled 13 points to 32 percent, according to an Infratest Dimap poll , a day after the talks collapsed.

Yet the struggle to form a government may still embolden critics within Merkel’s party such as Deputy Finance Minister Jens Spahn, 37, who took part in the failed coalition talks.

Two weeks after the election, Spahn blamed other party leaders for bungling its response to Germany’s refugee influx, which propelled the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party into parliament in September.

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Merkel however is headed for safer territory now though as the Social Democrats, her junior partner during two of her three previous terms opened the door to a governing coalition for Europe’s biggest economy.

That lessens the risk of an unprecedented repeat election. And even if she did have to face voters again, she still has the backing of her base. Eighty-five percent of CDU supporters say they would want Merkel to run again if the vote were to take place, according to latest polls . The Germans certainly do not like uncertainty in leadership.

After being written off by many pundits ,this may be another defining moment for the 63-year-old chancellor who has defied expectations of her demise before, even as strategic defeats and enemies pile up after 12 years in office.

Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady

But the implications are far beyond Germany as the collapse in the German talks and possibility of fresh elections brougt further uncertainty for the British government over Brexit, which had hoped that a strong German coalition, including the FDP, might help smooth the next phase of negotiations. Prolonged uncertainty in Berlin will also raise concerns in France, where Emmanuel Macron was pinning hopes of Eurozone reforms on apartnership with a strong German government.

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The parties involved in the talks are reported to be deeply divided over tax, asylum and environmental policies and which still rankle with many of her core supporters . If the coalition talks do succeed and a Merkel-led government comes about, by all accounts it will be because of Green concessions.

These will come at an internal party price, and it will be up to the leftist member of the Green party negotiating team, Juergen Trittin, to sell the deal to the members. The word in Berlin is that his reward from Merkel would be the ministry of finance, instead of it going to the FDP's Lindner. Whatever grand bargaining is done , many in Europe and those in the Gulf will be heaving a sigh of relief that Merkel will make it, given global leadership deficits at the moment on crucial international issues.


Dr. Mohamed Ramady is an energy economist and geo political expert on the GCC and former Professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran , Saudi Arabia and co- author of 'OPEC in a Post shale world – where to next ?' . His latest book is on 'Saudi Aramco 2030: Post IPO challenges'.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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