26th May 2020


Don't believe the AKK hype - Merkel will last to 2021

  • Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, aka AKK (right), at the European People's Party political assembly in Brussels, March 2019 (Photo: EPP)

It is true that where Emmanuel Macron sets a broad, ambitious vision for a 'European renaissance', Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK)'s reply was more typically German: no to "European centralism" and no support to strengthen the EU's social dimension.

Both leaders converge, however, on their emphasis on a classical inter-governmental approach and on conservative issues like increasing European competitiveness, EU border protection and the ability to act jointly on issues of mutual security and foreign policy interests.

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  • Macron's main intention was to unite pro-European progressives in France and beyond in order to place En Marche as a decisive political force in the next European Parliament (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The major difference comes with the letters' audiences.

While Macron's main intension is to unite pro-European progressives in France and beyond in order to place En Marche as a decisive political force in the next European Parliament, AKK's top priority is to position herself to the right from Angela Merkel, to win back significant numbers of voters her party has lost to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in recent years.

In a domestic German context, AKK's European 'reply' adds up to a series of recent speeches and initiatives, in which she focused on classical conservative demands like how to restrict migration to Germany or questioned the future of the Schengen agreement, if the EU will not boost resources for Frontex.

Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising proposal was a European aircraft carrier, which looks like her vivid bazooka of showing that law, order and defence are firmly on her agenda.

Even an ill-placed joke about gender equality could be seen as a sly effort to win back former CDU territory.

AKK will not be challenged only by the European elections in May, but even more importantly by three elections in the former 'East' Germany in the second half of 2019, where the AfD is much stronger than elsewhere in the country.

By giving up the party chair, Merkel passed this heavy burden of securing the CDU's electoral success to her successor and these elections will predetermine if AKK will make it all the way to the chancellery.

Adding to a difficult domestic backdrop, Merkel's third and final 'Grand Coalition' has hit an all-time low, with 70 percent disapproval among German voters.

Yet, this might not be the end.

Hence, given their poor results in current polls, Merkel's coalition partner SPD has little appetite to speed up the transition from Merkel to Kramp-Karrenbauer and face the unsavoury test of new elections.

Merkel - still standing

And there is another major hurdle in AKK's way: Merkel herself.

Despite the bad numbers for her coalition, she still leads the polls by far with 52 percent of support by voters (as of the latest March opinion polls), and seems to have no interest in leaving office even a minute before time.

Since the German constitution puts very high hurdles to any change of democratically elected leaders, AKK and her conservative cheerleaders within the CDU must wait on the sidelines for Merkel either to leave office by herself or see her finally stumble on the end of her political path.

Both scenarios not very likely given the ups and downs Merkel managed since her inauguration in 2005.

Consequently, Merkel and the SPD are now fateful companions more than ever. Once the curtain falls, both will have to leave the stage.

So, whatever rumours will accompany the next three years of the German coalition, don't believe the hype: chances are good that Merkel's last coalition will last until 2021.

Author bio

Olaf Boehnke is the senior advisor in Berlin to the Rasmussen Global political consultancy.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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