With the re-election of Chancellor Merkel in the September federal elections growing increasingly likely, the German head of government will be facing unparalleled challenges in her fourth term.
The looming Brexit and the election of the forcefully pro-European president Emmanuel Macron in France have created a – some might say – much-needed new dynamic in European politics; one that will leave Merkel torn between an effort to appease euro-sceptic sentiments on a national level, while giving way to the seemingly inevitable further integration of the European Union.
Merkel, the political animal par excellence, might just find a way to reconcile the irreconcilable. Her most recent balancing act, paving the way for gay marriage in Germany and voting against it at the same time, is yet another fine example of her politics, in which, much like a Schrodinger’s cat of the politosphere, she was and she wasn’t in favour of the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
How this will pan out on a European level remains to be seen. The “other half of Europe” under the political leadership of Macron’s France will be pushing for a politically and economically integrated EU, which is viewed sceptically by a non-negligible number of Germans, mostly because of concerns for “the German taxpayers'” money – a rhetoric largely fuelled by the political right. This legitimate concern about a certain redistribution of “German money” can hardly be rebutted, as it would be an inevitable consequence of a stronger, more integrated European Union.
But let’s assume, for a moment, that neither the status quo nor the return to a status quo ante are viable options for the EU; that a strong, united Europe is a not only a moral imperative for peace, but for progress and stability in the world; that the egotisms of European nation states will have no place in a 21st century, where a multitude of global challenges can only be met with European unity. In this scenario, Dr. Merkel will inevitably have to move beyond the classic Merkelian balancing act, boldly into the future. She will have to make a stronger stand against nationalist rhetoric in Germany, and argue the political case of her lifetime: convincing the German population that certain sacrifices will have to be made in order to continue on a path of prosperity, security, and peace; but most importantly, that those sacrifices will be inherently in the interest of Germany, not the opposite.
Merkel’s political magnum opus, teaching Germans – and the rest of Europe – to “stop worrying and love the EU” indubitably still lies ahead of her. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose European funeral ceremony was held today in Strasbourg, France, surely wouldn’t be the only one to be pleasantly surprised if this balancing act succeeded.