Who Will Be the Next Chancellor of Germany? A Look at Merkel's Likely Successors
We tell you all about the main candidates who battled it out in the 2021 Germany elections.
The results of Germany's 2021 federal election are out. The Social Democrats have defeated their main rivals – the Christian Democrats and the Greens. The functioning of Germany's electoral system and the possible coalitions that can emerge out of this election have been explained here. But who are the main candidates who battled it out, and who is expected to succeed Angela Merkel as the next chancellor of Germany?
Olaf Scholz (SPD)
The German word automat means ‘machine’. Nicknamed as the Scholzomat for his plain, boring, and mechanical behaviour, Olaf Scholz might be the man who will be remembered for resurrecting the SPD.
The oldest existing political party of Germany hasn’t won a Bundestag election since being led to victory by Gerhard Schröder in 2002.
But in the 2021 elections, Scholz has led the SPD to emerge from the elections as the single-largest party in the Bundestag, with 206 seats and 25.7 percent of the total vote share, 5.2 percent more than the 2017 elections.
Scholz is not only the Chancellor candidate for the SPD, but also Germany’s current vice-chancellor and the federal minister of Finance. He has always belonged to the SPD. He was born and brought up in Hamburg, the city-state of which he served as Mayor from 2011 to 2018.
His efficient response to the COVID-19 crisis in Germany, in which he launched a 750 billion euro package to limit the socio-economic destruction caused by the pandemic and to ensure that German factories, businesses, and workers could endure it, boosted his approval ratings and earned him a lot of acclaim, BBC reported.
What He is Fighting for
The Economist reported that one of the most important items on Scholz’s national agenda is increasing the minimum wage from 9.60 euro/hour to 12 euro/hour and imposing higher taxes on the rich.
Additionally, he wants to solve the problems of Germany’s excessively high rent and the housing shortage issue, along with transforming Germany into a prominent exporter of renewable energy technology.
Alleged Involvement in Financial Scandals
Scholz's slate is not completely clean. According to The Washington Post, he has been accused of involvement and complacency in two of Germany’s biggest financial scandals – the Wirecard scandal and the cum-ex tax fraud scandal. Earlier this month, he was even summoned before members of the German Parliament to answer questions about the latter scandal.
Nevertheless, no strong evidence has emerged to implicate him, and his left-leaning political reputation seems to have not been harmed.
Within the SPD, however, Scholz is perceived to be a moderate or to the centre-right. Perhaps that’s why he was able to successfully work with Merkel for the last three-and-a-half years. And perhaps that’s why he is potentially on his way to become the next Chancellor of Germany.
Armin Laschet (CDU)
Belonging to and now leading the same party as the über popular Angela Merkel, the 2021 German federal election should have been swept by Armin Laschet, the chancellor candidate of the CDU/CSU and the leader of the CDU.
But Laschet ended up second best behind Scholz, with the CDU/CSU securing 196 seats and only 24.1 percent of the total vote, its worst performance since winning 31 percent of the total vote share in 1949.
While Laschet is a CDU veteran, joining the party when he was only a teenager, he lacks the trademark charisma of Merkel.
As the minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, when his region was hit by catastrophic floods in July 2021 that caused dozens of deaths, Laschet was caught on camera laughing in the background while the German President was delivering a speech, reported Reuters.
Ever since then, his popularity dipped, dragging down his personal approval ratings, reported The Economist.
The Balancing Act
Laschet positions himself in the centre on economic issues, has a moderate approach towards climate change because he does not want climate policies to harm the economy, and he has been accused of taking a soft attitude on Russia and China, the former earning him derogatory labels like Russlandversteher and Putinversteher – the German elites who empathise with Russia and Vladimir Putin, reported Politico.
Laschet is the quintessential centrist, striking a middle ground on almost every major issue, be it climate, economics, or foreign policy.
Angela Merkel is undoubtedly a hard act to follow, but Laschet’s performance in the build-up to the elections, and now the election results, has put his party leadership position in jeopardy.
Only time will tell how relevant he stays to German politics once the new coalition government is formed.
Annalena Baerbock (Green Party)
Annalena Baerbock was the third main contender of the 2021 elections and while she didn’t get the victory she wanted, she has led the Green Party to its highest Bundestag seat tally in the party’s electoral history with 118 seats.
Between her, Scholz, and Laschet, Baerbock was the most confident and charismatic. She lacks the experience that Merkel brought to the table, but her progressive ideas for the future of Germany kept her in the race.
Emphasis on Climate Crisis & Social Justice
For Baerbock, climate change and social justice are inextricably linked to each other. The New York Times reported her saying, “Rich people will always be able to buy their way out, but most people can’t.”
She wants to make Germany carbon-neutral, and she wants to spend a lot of money on that venture – 50 billion euros. She wants Germany to be less reliant on coal usage, and she also wants to advance the country’s electrical car industry.
But while climate change has been the top priority for the Greens for a very long time, and while Scholz and Laschet have also accepted the need to combat it, what really sets Baerbock apart is her unapologetic commitment to the country’s diversity.
She is the only one of the three main chancellor candidates, reported The New York Times, who tried to remind the people of Germany’s moral duty to accept refugees fleeing Afghanistan.
The Hurdles She Faced
Being a woman in politics with such ‘radically’ progressive ideas, Baerbock was bound to face slander.
She has been regularly targeted through sexist online misinformation, reported Politico.
Her party has also been the victim of fake news, where in one instance it was falsely claimed that the Greens wanted to ban house pets to save the environment.
Baerbock’s own slip ups like exaggerating on her CV, allegedly plagiarising in her book, and not revealing her income from her party did contribute to the Greens falling from first place in the polls in April 2021 to ending up third in the elections.
None of these scandals, however, come close to the accusations of scandals that have been levelled against Scholz.
Nevertheless, she is only 40 years old with the ability and the desire to shake up the status quo. Annalena Baerbock is the one to look out for in the coming years of German politics.
(With inputs from The Economist, Reuters, The New York Times, and Politico.)
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