Merkel's Next Steps

What the Chancellor Must Do to Safeguard Her Legacy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel votes in the general election in Berlin, Germany, September 24, 2017. Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel never aimed to stay in power as long as her mentor, Helmut Kohl. But after her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came in first place in Sunday’s election, Merkel is set to be chancellor for a fourth time—placing her squarely in the same league as her conservative predecessor. Merkel will undoubtedly go down in the history books for being the first female chancellor, as well as the first from East Germany. But if this is presumably her last term in office, as there would likely be a sense of fatigue among her voters if she sought a fifth, she needs to think all the more carefully about her legacy, regardless of what kind of coalition government emerges in Berlin. 

Abroad, Merkel is known for her trademark calm and competence. At home, however, while she receives broad support and admiration for her global image, there is nevertheless a sense of unease about Germany’s future and her ability to keep the country on the right path. During the last 12 years in office, she shunned visionary leadership, opting instead to appease the center for short-term electoral gains by straying from conservative stances on issues such as energy and security. Doing so made her unpopular among some within her party and drove others further right, helping give rise to the anti-immigration, right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD). That party entered the Bundestag for the first time, coming in third place with over 13 percent of the vote on Sunday. And so, in her fourth term, Merkel must fix her domestic image as a reactive dealmaker as she manages the structural changes she may have inadvertently set into motion. If she does so with foresight rather than through the prism of the here and now, she will be able to preserve her legacy at home.

There are three policies in particular that may have scored her short-term points with a majority of Germans but that ultimately displeased the conservative base

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