MERKEL’S FOURTH TERM: END OF AN ERA?
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MERKEL’S FOURTH TERM: END OF AN ERA?
26 March @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
After months of tortuous negotiations, Germany finally has a new government. A ‘grand coalition’ has been returned to office.
Outlasting an array of UK prime ministers and US presidents, Angela Merkel – touted as the new leader of the free world in 2016 – returns as chancellor for a fourth term in office, meaning that she will have governed for some 16 years by 2021. But what does this latest grand coalition signify? Does it mark the start of a new era in German politics, or does it represent business as usual? What does it mean for the future of German politics, not least with the collapse of the Social Democrats and the rise of Alternative for Germany? Faced with so many challenges both at home and abroad/and in Europe, can Germany’s new government deliver?
By kind invitation of The Lord Balfe, The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to welcome Ali Aslan to share his thoughts on the formation of Chancellor Merkel’s fourth government. Mr Aslan will be able to provide a unique insight on the subject given his vast experience covering political events in the country.
Ali Aslan has worked worldwide for global news networks such as CNN, ABC News and Deutsche Welle TV, where he hosted the internationally acclaimed talk show “Quadriga” which reaches 200 countries and 90 million viewers each week. An internationally sought-after presenter, Aslan regularly moderates at major conferences around the world and has shared the stage, among others with Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Bill Clinton. As a former Policy and Media Advisor to the German government, Aslan is also a frequent public speaker on German and European politics. Aslan is a United Nations Fellow and a member of the Körber Network Foreign Policy as well as the Global Diplomacy Lab. He has been named a Young Leader by the American Council on Germany, the BMW Foundation, the German Marshall Fund, the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Munich Security Conference and the Atlantik-Brücke.
On 26th March 2018 the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Ali Aslan, the host of a German talk-show, Quadriga on Deutsche Welle TV.
Ali opened the discussion with a stark picture of the German election: the refugee crisis, and in particular Chancellor Merkel’s handling of it loomed over everything. This fact alone showed us that the right-wing insurgent party, Alternative for Deutschland, was coming of age in a country and political culture that isn’t used to consensus-breaking parties.
Mr. Aslan’s core argument was that with the early breakdown of the ‘Jamaica’ talks, and taking over 4 months to form a grand coalition Merkel was for the first time vulnerable, and widely disliked in political circles. Not just by the opposition Social Democrats but even by her own party, the Christian Democratic Union, and especially by the more conservative Christian Social Union. People have grown tired of her constructive ambiguity on important issues, like refugees, integration and border control. Safe to say, the Merkel era is drawing to a close.
Mr Aslan declared, “in the United States, presidents win elections by calling for change, in Germany you lose them by calling for it.” In a conservative country changes in the economy, social inequality and even getting the will to reform the wider E.U. is a difficult process. The recent automotive emissions scandal and the slow pace of digitalisation has taken a toll of the morale in industry, as Mr. Aslan put it, “Germany is a hardware nation, not a software one.” And Germany’s history in Europe has meant its military is poorly equipped for the kind of burden carrying needed for a leader of Europe, despite the country being one of the biggest exporters of hi-tech weapons.
Poor international leadership in the White House, and weak leadership in France and Brexit has meant Germany is largely the leader by default not by design. Its leadership in Europe is hotly debated internationally, but rarely discussed in Germany. But this could change. The Franco-German alliance, the bedrock of European political power, is entering a new phase: Germany is no longer a steady leader insulated from populism, with France playing a secondary role. Macron, unlike Hollande, Sarkozy or Chirac, isn’t waiting to take ques from Merkel’s Berlin on what reforms are needed or the pace of them.
Turning to what Merkel’s legacy would have looked like before 2015, Mr Aslan argued that would have looked sparse. When she opened the borders go refugees in 2015 and passed same-sex marriage in 2017, she surprised everyone, most of all Mr Aslan himself. People began to ask, what is the difference between the CDU and the SPD or the Greens? This fermented a conservative backlash from the right-wing of her own party and gave political space for the AfD. She is only now beginning to promote figures in her party, most of which are more right-wing than her.
Mr. Aslan noted too that the AfD is having an effect on political language, phrases and statements, like asking whether Islam is compatible with Germany, or if shooting illegal migrants at the border might stem the flow would have ruined careers five or ten years ago, now they don’t. For Mr. Aslan, change will happen in Germany whether Merkel likes it or not now; this could be that her party shifts to the right, or growing public anger at refugee integration management or seeing the Franco-German alliance on a more equal footing. Merkel’s 4th term is, for Mr. Aslan, an end of an era, but a picture hasn’t emerged what will replace it yet.
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