The Burdens of Germany’s Next Chancellor

What’s at Stake in the Election

Martin Schulz with Angela Merkel at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, March 14, 2013. Yves Herman / Reuters

There’s been no shortage of hand-wringing over national elections in the past year. In the last ten months alone, we’ve seen high-stakes electoral contests between populist candidates in the United States, Austria, the Netherlands, and France, as well as a tight race in Ghana, a controversial one in Kenya, and an election that followed an impeachment scandal in South Korea. And with another round of elections coming up in Austria after the coalition government collapsed, the near-term election drama is far from over.

One of the most important elections of 2017, however, has attracted comparatively little attention. On September 24, Germans will head to the polls to elect a new parliament, whose members will, in turn, form a governing coalition and select Germany’s next chancellor. Although this vote will determine who will chart the course of Europe’s largest economy and serve as the key negotiator in the looming Brexit negotiations, the German campaign season hasn’t garnered much interest.

On the one hand, the lack of buzz around Germany’s federal elections makes a good bit of sense. To avoid a repetition of the humanitarian, physical, and political devastation of World War II, Germany has intentionally built a system that contains the structures and institutions needed to instill resilience and reliability into the political process. Or, to put it differently, German politics is known for being, well, predictable, and thus boring. Nothing has brought this sense of calm to the electoral arena quite like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose steady, measured leadership will most likely guide Germany again over the next four years. 

On the other hand, this lack of interest is concerning, given what is at stake in the German election. Whoever leads Germany in the coming years and how this person responds to some of the most important challenges hanging over today’s tenuous political landscape will deeply shape Europe—and the rest of world. That’s why the next few weeks of German politics—which will

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