Eleven months ago, I called “the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel as chancellor.” Today, following another poor showing in a regional election, Merkel has apparently moved one step further, by offering not to run again as boss of her party, the Christian Democratic Union. That does not necessarily mean she will already step down as chancellor; she could even serve out her full term. But it does mean that she has now officially launched the transition. Henceforth, she will govern as a lame duck, as all Germany and Europe will look for her eventual successor as leader of the CDU and, probably, chancellor.
Merkel’s decision is remarkable because she has repeatedly opined that she considered it a mistake to separate the offices of party leader and chancellor (as her own predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, did in his final year as chancellor.) That in turn suggests that she feels she has lost control over her overarching objective, which is to manage an orderly succession.
If the Social Democrats, who also suffered another drubbing in yesterday’s Hessian election, walk out of the governing coalition with the CDU and CSU, perhaps next year, then Merkel will be out as chancellor at that moment. Perhaps the new CDU leader can then arrange a coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats. Or (s)he could lead a minority government. Or (s)he could run for the office of chancellor in a snap election.
Who will (s)he be? All eyes are on Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, better known as AKK, whom we profiled here. Currently general manager of the party, she is Merkel’s preferred candidate and in many ways — temperamentally and politically — similar. Another possibility is the more conservative and confrontational Jens Spahn, currently health minister, whom we profiled here. But the field is suddenly wide open. Even former rivals of Merkel’s, such as Friedrich Merz, could come back out of quasi-retirement into party politics. This is a historic week in Germany. Come back often to our News Bites and coverage on Handelsblatt Global.
While German politics is in turmoil, the rest of Germany is not. There could even be good news in German business, which may not stay as far behind in the digital revolution as we have been reporting. The reason is the upcoming auction for electromagnetic spectrum, as Germany, like other countries, prepares for 5G telecommunications. The auction is next spring, and the details of it will be announced within weeks. Some pundits now believe that Germany’s broadcasting authority may in fact adopt a rather enlightened approach.
This transition to fifth-generation mobile telecommunications will be crucial: Not only for consumers, so they can connect to the internet at exponentially faster speeds and in more places; but also (and especially) for businesses, so their machines can start talking to other machines through the so-called Internet of Things. One of the most affected sectors is the car industry. That’s because driverless cars, which will be on roads within years, must be permanently connected, sending and receiving huge amounts of data to be safe. Perhaps that’s one reason why even Germany’s car makers are interested in bidding for some spectrum, as Handelsblatt has learned.
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