Germany prepares to say goodbye to the Merkel era

It is the end of an era in Germany. In less than a week, on September 26, after almost 16 years in power, Angela Merkel will no longer be chancellor. The duty is on hand to take the pulse of the place. First text of three.

Only a square of faithful had braved the drizzle of the Baltic Sea. At the end of the campaign, they were barely 300 in the small market square of Stralsund to bid farewell to the one who represented them for eight terms and three decades. To the tunes of Johnny Cash, everyone warmed up as best they could. A few days before the election which will appoint the new chancellor, Sunday, Angela Merkel had come to lend a hand to her successor at the head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The less charismatic Armin Laschet needs it badly, as his campaign is floundering against that of the Minister of Finance, the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz. This is even truer in northeastern Germany, where polls put the CDU far behind the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and practically tied with a more right-wing party, the Alternative for the Germany (AfD).

Despite the whistles of opponents of the sanitary passport, there were early voters, tourists on vacation, mothers with their children and onlookers simply curious to see the Chancellor one last time. “We will miss her terribly,” said the city’s mayor, Alexander Badrow, who belongs to the same party as Merkel (the CDU). He congratulates himself on the prosperity that the Chancellor has rained down on his city. Of course, “nothing was given to us. We had to do our classes, ”he explains. But it is probably no coincidence that this small town of 60,000 inhabitants in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, formerly in East Germany, inherited the largest suspension bridge in Germany, many federal agencies (such as the customs and pensions) and a gleaming oceanographic museum.

Here, 30 years ago, remembers the mayor who was 16 when the Berlin Wall fell, the shipyards supported 7,000 people and unemployment reached 25%. “We were predicting a collapse of the population; today, people come from all over to settle in our region. But Angela Merkel’s departure represents a big change. After all, we lived with her for 16 years, and no one knows what tomorrow will bring. “

Stability first

Despite the last minute assemblies, everything happens as if in the minds of the Germans the name of the Chancellor was no longer associated with that of her party.

” I greatly admire. Merkel gave the Germans what they expected the most: stability, ”says Werner Feurich, who did not vote for her in the last election. One day, she came to visit the small humor museum, Skurrileum, which he founded on the quays of the old port. “She has a lot of humor. He is a very simple person. “

Besides, she should be back in a few months. Feurich will then give him a canvas that he commissioned from the satirist painter Rolf Tiemann, from Münster. It represents the Chancellor in the sky holding something resembling the Tables of the Law, while below the Hieronymus Bosch imps administer a beating to Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad and Alexander Lukashenko. “I’m sure she will find it very funny. “

We lived 16 years with her, and no one knows what tomorrow will bring

But, not all share this idyllic vision of the Chancellor. “Angela Merkel is such an atypical and improbable personality that it is difficult in the world to take stock of it in a pragmatic way,” says Volker Resing, journalist, essayist and editor-in-chief of the Catholic publishing house Herder Verlag. “She is such a symbol! Who could have imagined 16 years ago that a woman who had known only the dictatorship of the East, and who had only entered politics at the age of 37, would lead Germany just 15 years after reunification? from the country ? “

All analysts agree that Merkel leaves a country in excellent economic health. “It overcame all the crises and ensured the stability of the country, this is the most important for the Germans”, says Ralph Bollmann, journalist at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

But, during this time, she did not reform the country, adds the one who is also the author of the book Angela Merkel. The Chancellor and her time (Angela Merkel. The Chancellor and her time). “It was his predecessor Gerhard Schröder who made the most important economic reforms; the country has not been reformed for 16 years. At first, however, she presented herself as a reformer who wanted to go further than Schröder. But when in 2005 she nearly lost the election, she chose not to face the problems unless a solution emerged on her own. It therefore leaves a public administration with big problems. It is no coincidence that Germany is one of the few European countries not to know precisely how many people have been vaccinated against COVID-19. The only ministry close to his heart was that of the Family. “

For Bollmann, the only big reform of Merkel was the creation of a system of day care and maternity leave – which is not nothing, he specifies all the same.

A “Protestant Prussian”

For Volker Resing, Merkel is first and foremost “a Protestant Prussian”. One of his books is also called in German Angela Merkel, The Protestant (Herder).

Its biggest mistake, he says, paradoxically remains what it has been celebrated for all over the world, except in Germany: welcoming over a million migrants in 2015. “It was a huge political mistake,” says -he. At least that is how the Germans saw it, even if they have forgiven it since. In 2015, Merkel opened the door to refugees when a few months later she will abandon the Greeks in the worst crisis in their history. It is this crisis that literally created the AfD, a very right-wing party like it exists elsewhere in Europe. It was a historic mistake. “

In fact, for Resing, Merkel has never tolerated any right wing within the CDU. “For her, it was horror: it was out of the question. However, from Konrad Adenauer to Helmut Kohl, if the Christian Democrats have survived in Germany (unlike the rest of Europe), it is because they have always cast a wide net. It was a party of government, not an ideological party. “

Merkel committed the same type of error, he says, by decreeing a few weeks after the Fukushima disaster, and without the slightest debate within the party, the exit from nuclear power in… 2022! His successor, Armin Laschet, also admitted that it would be a mistake to do away with nuclear power in Germany before coal. “Merkel doesn’t have a strategic vision,” Resing says. She’s a scientist, she has a cold mind. She makes one decision after another and always waits for problems to arise. “

What is a serious flaw for some appears to others as its high quality. Angela Merkel’s biographer Marion Van Renterghem (It was Merkel, Les Arènes), admits that this pastor’s daughter who knows the Bible and has visited the Pope more than any other chancellor before she never really had a strategic vision. “She’s a moral leader,” she says. It has political reflexes, but above all an extremely solid moral compass and has made it its political strategy. That is why, in 2015, she taught European leaders a lesson in humanity. “

The last card

The question remains open as to whether we can thus replace strategy with morality, but this probably explains Merkel’s close proximity to Barack Obama. Moreover, the former correspondent in Germany, Russia and Eastern Europe of the French public broadcasting company Michel Meyer is ready to bet that as soon as she retires, Angela Merkel will end up at the Obama Foundation.

In the meantime, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Germans perceive the SPD candidate, Olaf Scholz, as his natural successor. At the start of the campaign, rumors circulated that Merkel would vote green; it took two weeks before a denial arose. “Merkel was never interested in the CDU,” says Bollmann. It was the last of his concerns. Don’t be surprised if the party is going badly! When Alexander Badrow is asked if his party will recover from the Chancellor’s departure, he looks at the sky and is content with a lapidary: “You see what is happening …”

In the storm-flooded market square in Stralsund, Armin Laschet was playing his last card. While he was exhausting the Social Democrats with the utmost energy – whom he accuses of wanting to ally not only with the Greens, but also with the radical left of Die Linke – he invited “those who hiss and cry there “down” against the wearing of the mask to go visit the intensive care unit in the city. During the day, we learned that in the Rhineland a 49-year-old man had shot a cashier at a gas station, probably because he had just ordered him to wear a mask.

” Stability ! It represented stability, ”Werner Feurich repeats like a mantra. “I think it’s not going to last. “

It may even be over already.

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