16:23 GMT +318 October 2019
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    German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the opening session of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, July 15, 2016.

    Merkel's Only Chance to Save Her Political Legacy 'is Not to Run for Reelection'

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    The migration crisis has cost German Chancellor Angela Merkel the public trust. According to political scientist Karl-Rudolf Korte, she still has a chance to salvage her political legacy, but doing so would require turning down a run for a fourth term in office.

    Fourth terms rarely turn out well for German chancellors, particularly those from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Korte recalled, in an article for Focus Magazine. Konrad Adenauer, post-war West Germany's first chancellor, hung on only for two years after being elected.

    Helmut Kohl, who ran the country from 1982 – through to 1998, served four terms, the last of which has since been remembered by Germans as a period of "endless political stalemates, particularly in the area of tax and fiscal policy, until 1998, when the CDU/CSU lost the elections to the Bundestag."

    "By the end of his sixteenth year in office, German society had gotten seriously tired of Kohl's persona, and no pre-election strategy could stop this trend," Korte noted. "Germans were fed up with his 'grand historical significance', and Gerhard Schroder's spectacular 1998 upset was the result of Kohl's megalomania – his deeming himself to be the indispensable personality of modern history, and that he and no one else could be the one to introduce the euro."

    Taking this brief historical primer into account, the political scientist suggested that in some ways, Kohl's legacy bears a resemblance to the situation that Angela Merkel finds herself in today; and it's not that she and her party have no chance of reelection; rather, it's about the limits she would face in pushing through her agenda.

    "Public opinion and the media show that Merkel's popularity rating has reached historical lows, and is not likely to rise," Korte recalled. "She faces a growing level of personal isolation, resulting in a loss in her connection with political reality. Not least important is the role played by the question of her physical exhaustion. Even the argument to stay is not new, and goes like this: if the entire Western World were incapacitated (via the election of Le Pen in France, Hofer in Austria, Trump in the USA), Merkel's resignation would be seen as the 'wrong signal'."

    Things can be much simpler, Korte suggested. "The irrational inability to let go is directly linked to the drug called 'politics'. Therefore, there are many arguments in favor of limiting the number of terms a chancellor can serve, with a simultaneous increase in their duration. Then, the hegemony of a single chancellor could continue –for ten years. And Political parties, along with voters, would not have to suffer through candidates who have exhausted their capabilities, and from humiliating party succession struggles."

    Of course, it's still unclear what Merkel will choose, the analyst noted. Her party probably could carve out a majority through a coalition with like-minded parties – including the CDU, the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). 

    But Merkel's main personal downside, the political scientist recalled, "is that a majority of the population considers her to be personally responsible for opening the country's borders in the summer of 2015." Therefore, as far as the CDU is concerned, "the price of nominating her for the post of chancellor is high."

    "What will the new narrative to legitimize her nomination? Promises that have yet to be fulfilled won't mobilize anyone. And presenting herself as the indispensable 'pilot in the crisis' would convince only a few."

    Ultimately, Korte suggested that Merkel could yet salvage what she considers the crown jewel to her legacy – her migration policy, retroactively, and prevent it from being completely reversed by her political and ideological rivals. This might be doable through the nomination to the party leadership of other heavyweight CDU officials, such as Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, or Defense Minister Ursela von der Leyen. The question, the analyst noted, is whether Merkel can find the necessary political pragmatism.

    "From the historical perspective, her chancellorship is already almost over. But she can still become a 'heroine in bowing out', becoming the first chancellor who resigns voluntarily," Korte concluded.

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    Karl-Rudolf Korte, Angela Merkel, Germany
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