The 26th of September, 2021, is marked as the election day for the Bundestag, the German parliament. The Bundestag election is of great significance; not only does it have considerable influence over which laws and policies are passed, it also decides who the next chancellor of Germany will be. Although this election occurs every four years, it has been made ever more significant by the official retirement of Angela Merkel, who has held the position of chancellor for the past fifteen years – the longest chancellorship in German history. Because of this, the world is watching with bated breath to find out who the next person to take the wheel will be.
Germany is a parliamentary federal democracy, meaning that the 598 members (MPs) of the Bundestag are elected by the German people through a system in which each voter casts two votes. Of these two votes, one is a direct vote for a candidate from one of Germany’s 299 constituencies and the other is for a political party in one of its 16 states. Once the Bundestag is elected, one of the first tasks it carries out during its electoral term is the Federal Convention, which elects the chancellor. A candidate is officially nominated by the federal president, who must then win an absolute majority in the Bundestag to be elected as the federal chancellor. This is fairly different from the American system of democracy, in which there are direct elections held to elect the President, House of Representatives, and the Senate. Unlike the president’s limited role in lawmaking, the German chancellor has the ability to form the federal cabinet and directly shape policies. Thus, they have the power to influence many aspects of the economy and international relations, seen especially in the case of Angela Merkel.
Having first been elected in 2005, and re-elected three times in 2009, 2013, and 2018, Merkel is a veteran in politics. Entering the field in 1989 as a member of the Democratic Awakening Party and rapidly rising to the rank of party spokesperson in 1990. After the party formed a coalition with the German Social Union and the Christian Democratic Union, they won the first free elections in East Germany and were successfully integrated into the government. Merkel eventually became the CDU’s deputy spokesperson and won a seat in the Bundestag. In 1991, she was appointed as Minister for Women and Youth. Furthermore, in 1999, Helmut Kohl, the former chancellor responsible for Merkel’s ministerial appointment as well as being her mentor was implicated in a financial scandal. Merkel proposed the party move forward without him at the helm, earning her great popularity amongst the German populace. In 2005, the party came to an agreement with the ruling Social Democratic Party to form a grand coalition headed by Merkel. This made her, at the age of 51, the youngest chancellor in German history, as well as the first woman and the first East German to hold the position.
In the fifteen years following this extraordinary path, her diplomatic endeavours as chancellor are recognized for propelling Germany to become one of the most influential countries in the European Union. Her government has been successful in improving relations with countries they have historically been at odds with, such as Russia. Her deft handling of economic crises have also made her extremely popular both in Germany, where she enjoys high approval ratings, as well as abroad. It is undeniable that her leadership has had a profound influence on not just Germany, but also Europe and the international community as a whole.
So why does her retirement make this year’s elections so unique? As Angela Merkel steps down from the position of chancellor, Germany is forced to grapple with many issues involving its relationship with other European powers, climate change, and immigration. All were matters of concern even during Merkel’s chancellorship, but they are likely to become more serious matters of contention in her absence. For years, Merkel has been a staunch proponent of centrism, as is evident in her efforts to maintain alliances and dispel rivalries. In this election, Germany must choose between centrist candidates such as Armin Laschet who will carry on her legacy and other more left or right-leaning candidates, who are also strong considerations. Will Merkel’s successor be able to maintain Germany’s current reputation on both the national and international levels? This year’s election will decide the political direction Germany chooses to follow and shape the future of Europe’s economic powerhouse.