Angela Merkel's Legacy in Germany

by Sophia Kownatzki

On Tuesday, April 16, Niko Switek (DAAD Visiting Assistant Professor of German Studies at the University of Washington) gave a talk to a group of 20 at IES on “Deceptive Stability? Germany in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Last Term.” In his lecture, Switek discussed Chancellor Merkel’s tenure, from the perspective of her as a stabilizing force, to the view of her as a villain whose refugee policy has led to turbulence both in the public and within her conservative party.

Having stepped down as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) due to mounting criticism of her refugee policies, Merkel broke from the Chancellor’s traditional role as head of government and head of their political party. Whoever succeeds Merkel, Switek argued, will test the validity of her changes within the CDU. Switek then took a closer look at the influence Merkel has had on the socio-cultural and economic positions of the CDU. He characterized the CDU as a centrist party positioned as a conservative party, one which, under Merkel, has moved towards the economic left and socially progressive end of the spectrum.

These shifting positions within the CDU have led to the rise of new coalition models, Switek notes. While national attempts at new coalitions were ultimately unsuccessful, Switek’s analysis on the state and subnational levels has shown new coalitions forming. He proposed that these newly forming coalitions, along with the tension between Chancellor Merkel and the new head of the CDU, may lead to an earlier end to Merkel’s chancellorship than expected. However, he added that people have wrongly predicted the end of Merkel’s leadership throughout her tenure as chancellor. Ultimately, though, Germany will be heading into uncharted waters.

In the Q&A session, audience members’ questions surrounded refugee policies, particularly how the CDU and conservative coalitions handle the rise of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), and how refugee policies affected the CDU’s leftist shift on the socio-cultural spectrum. Switek acknowledged both of these issues, explaining how the growth of AfD has stimulated the search for new coalitions.