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How Merkel could keep “merkeling” through

merkel2 reflective resign continue merkeling through AFP
Source: AFP

What next for Angela Merkel? That is the biggest question in German politics, after several setbacks for the chancellor and more trouble to come this fall. On Thursday, I argued that “to secure her legacy, she should use her prodigious political talent to prepare a graceful exit, then bow out.” Against that, my colleague Andrew Bulkeley pointed out that journalists have been predicting her imminent demise for years. “Saying she may not survive what she herself has said is her last term underestimates her abilities as a politician,” Andrew concludes. “Her time has not yet come.”

Here, then, is a timeline of foreseeable events that could tell us what Merkel intends to do. Two of Germany’s 16 federal states hold elections this month, and in both Ms. Merkel’s conservative bloc is likely to fare poorly. In Bavaria on the 14th, she can blame the local party, called CSU, which has been making her life difficult in federal politics. But in Hesse on the 28th, she will come under more pressure if her own Christian Democrats (CDU) get a trouncing. In 2013 the CDU got 38.3 percent in that state. This time it could weigh in below 30, according to polls.

A result in that neighborhood will renew speculation about the CDU’s party congress in Hamburg on December 6-8. Will she or won’t she stand again as leader of the party? She has said that staying on as chancellor without also leading the party would be a huge mistake (one that her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, made and rued). On the other hand, if she stands and delegates punish her with a bad winning margin, that would make her look even weaker.

My guess as of today is that Merkel will try to hold on to all the reins of power, in both party and government, for another year. She could then offer her role as party leader to the next generation in 2020, in good time for the campaign of 2021. Meanwhile, she would try to stay on as chancellor until the next election.

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan has left again, after a decidedly cool reception from Germany’s political class, and a decidedly enthusiastic welcome from some of Germany’s 3-4 million ethnic Turks. He left no doubt that he had them in his propaganda sights when he gave the four-finger Rabaa sign (also spelled R4BIA) through the window of his limousine at Tegel airport. That’s a gesture used by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, among others. Hmm.

Then he was off to Cologne to open a mosque run by DITIB, a branch of his administration in Ankara. The money, imams and (presumably) ideas all come directly from Turkey. So now Germans are debating whether their domestic spy service should have a closer look at what goes on at DITIB’s many mosques here. Probably a good idea.

Then again, the Germans also, once again, made too much of a theater about their qualms at hosting Erdogan. Did he or did he not deserve a red carpet? Who cares. During the Cold War the US and Soviet leaders also met on red carpets. The point is not lovey-dovey affection but mutual survival. And Germany needs Turkey: in Syria, in the migrant crisis, within NATO, and in lots of other ways. As my colleague Moritz Koch argues, Erdogan’s reception showed above all that Germany still has no strategic culture in foreign policy, based on national interest.

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ThyssenKrupp, that iconic German industrial brand, appears at last to have put its leadership crisis behind it. After a bitter fight with activist investors from Sweden and the US over strategy, the CEO and chairman had both resigned this summer. The interim CEO then agreed a compromise with the investors, as we first reported last week. Instead of being dismantled, the conglomerate will be split into two separate companies, both publicly listed: one for the steel making and other metal bashing, and one for the elevator business and car parts.

Yesterday, the board signed off on that plan and turned Guido Kerkhoff (pictured) from interim to permanent CEO. Kerkhoff immediately sat down for a chat with Handelsblatt. Bernhard Pellens, a professor of business, is the new chairman.

As a former investment banker in M&A (in a very distant life), I must say that I don’t immediately see how splitting the company up will make it more profitable. In my experience, the people getting rich from such transactions are not necessarily the shareholders but the bankers and lawyers. But hey, I’m ready to be proved wrong.

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This evening we’ll all be watching what comes out of the pompously titled “Diesel summit” between government ministers and car honchos. They’ve been haggling for months about how to deal with all the VWs and other cars spewing toxic diesel fumes on German streets. Some cities even considered banning traffic on some roads. It now appears that the car makers have to cough up money, to pay either for hardware fixes or for vouchers that drivers can use to trade their stinkers in for new and cleaner cars. In our family, we happen to drive a VW Sharan that is affected, so I’ve got skin in the game. Check in with us HERE for updates.

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