With long-serving German Chancellor Angela Merkel set to step down next year, Germany finds itself at a crossroads entertaining the prospect of a far right resurgence, further weakening an already reeling European Union
On February 10, 2020, German Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her intent to give up her post as president of the Christian Democratic Union party, and is no longer seeking to succeed Angela Merkel as German Chancellor, throwing both Germany into turmoil and Europe into greater uncertainty. Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s decision comes after a local chapter of her party, the CDU of the small eastern state of Thuringia, formed a coalition that included the far right Alternative für Deutschland party in order to win the state’s governorship. The union between the CDU and the AfD violated the cardinal rule of German politics since the end of the Third Reich—to never associate with the far right. This move struck a fatal blow to many Germans’ confidence in Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s ability to exert authority over her party after a year and a half of gaffes and unforced errors that saw Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s popularity within the CDU erode over time.
This story has rocked Germany not simply because Ms. Merkel has been deprived of her chosen successor, but also because of the many historical parallels it holds to the final days of the Weimar Republic and the uncertainty it holds for the future of Germany’s famously moderate politics. It was in Thuringia as well that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party won their first major victory through the formation of a coalition with mainstream conservative parties. Also, Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s reaction lays bare the divide between the moderates of the CDU—who had as standard bearer Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer and seek to more or less continue Chancellor Merkel’s style of government—and the party’s conservative wing, This faction, while a far cry from the far right, have openly mused about whether the CDU should welcome coalitions with party’s like AfD so as not to alienate those voters and shore up the CDU’s slipping grip on its majorities. All of these conflicts will now come to head in December as the CDU scrambles to choose a new president and candidate for the Chancellorship.
But the ripple effects of Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s decision are being felt all across Europe at a moment of heightened insecurity in the bloc. With ongoing social unrest in France, the two founding members of the European Communities—predecessor of the European Union—have been forced to turn inward and focus on domestic affairs at a time when Europe is losing its second largest economy (the United Kingdom) and is in desperate need of strong leadership to chart a path forward for the bloc.
All of this coming just weeks before one of the worst far right terrorist attacks in Germany in recent memory, the rise of the far right and its potential normalization mark an inflection point in European politics where the responses made—particularly in Germany and France—will have pivotal consequences for the future of the European project and the three quarter centuries of peace it has brought to the once war-torn continent.