- German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Monday that she’s stepping back from politics.
- Merkel has been widely viewed as a key global leader in recent years, especially as US President Donald Trump and other more nationalistic leaders have risen to power.
- Experts seem to believe Merkel’s impending departure leaves the world without a clear leader.
It wasn’t long ago that people were dubbing German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the “leader of the free world” amid President Donald Trump’s rise to power and a growing embrace of nationalism across the US and Europe.
But on Monday Merkel announced that she’s stepping down as leader of her party and will not seek reelection.
“I will no longer run for party chair at the next federal party conference. I will no longer run for Chancellor, nor will I run for any other political office,” Merkel said as her party, the Christian Democratic Union party, has faced a series of election setbacks.
Merkel will remain chancellor until 2021, but her announcement has major implications for the future of Germany, Europe, and key institutions, experts say.
Merkel has been a key world leader for years
Merkel has dominated German politics for over a decade and been one of the most recognised global leaders throughout that time. As leaders like Trump have pushed back against institutions like the NATO alliance, the European Union, and the United Nations, Merkel has worked to remind people of the value of global cooperation.
As it became clear that Trump would be a more unilateral leader after the G7 summit in May 2017, Merkel stepped forward and said, “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over. I’ve experienced that in the last few days.”
She added, “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”
Indeed, Merkel has never shied away from standing against Trump, and has made her opposition to his stances on an array of issues quite clear.
When Trump pushed for a travel ban against people from predominately Muslim countries, Merkel decried the move, stating, “The necessary and decisive battle against terrorism does not in any way justify putting groups of certain people under general suspicion – in this case people of Muslim belief or of a certain origin.”
“In my opinion, this act runs contrary to the basic principles of international refugee help and international cooperation,” Merkel added.
She has also fought to save the landmark Paris climate accord, for example, and repeatedly stood up to Trump’s criticism of NATO. When Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, Merkel also did not withhold criticism, saying the move “undermines trust in the international order.”
As Trump has moved to distance America from the international community, Merkel has often worked to hold it together. In this context, some fear what the world might look like without her at the forefront of global leadership.
‘The coming storm is … quite powerful’
Richard Haas, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, on Monday tweeted that with the Merkel era ending, it leaves the West and post-World War II international order without a leader.
“The US of @realDonaldTrump has abdicated. The UK is distracted Canada lacks means. Macron is too weak,” Haas said. “Bodes poorly for stability, prosperity, freedom.”
With Merkel stepping back, it opens the door for some of the more nationalistic voices in Europe and elsewhere to shape the future of these institutions, Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told Business Insider.
“Without a doubt there is a growing global shift away from consensus, values-based government leadership toward more radical and nationalistic voices in leadership positions around the world,” Conley said. “Governmental and international institutions that were founded and are grounded on values, principles and norms such as NATO and the EU are not only being profoundly challenged by these nationalistic voices today, but their future will be shaped by them.”
These institutions will become more “imperiled” if they’re not able to “develop successful policy responses to this growing challenge,” Conley added.
“Because NATO and the EU were founded after societal norms and institutions were destroyed in Europe, their foundations are quite strong – but the coming storm is also quite powerful,” Conley said. “We hope the foundations will endure.”
Ian Bremmer, the president and founder of the Eurasia Group, expressed similar sentiments.
With the victory of right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Macron’s fledgling approval levels, and Brexit, among other recent developments, Bremmer tweeted that regardless of what happens in America’s midterm elections next month, “political momentum in democracies everywhere is against the establishment.”
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