| 5 March 2024, Tuesday |

Not gone yet: Merkel to hang on as active caretaker

Chancellor Angela Merkel is not seeking re-election in Germany’s Sept. 26 election after 16 years in power, but she is far from a lame duck.

Merkel will not be leaving office anytime soon, according to government officials, because of the probability of protracted coalition discussions following the election. She fully wants to use her time after the election to press through with foreign policy goals.

Merkel will stay chancellor until a majority of Bundestag legislators elects and swears in a successor, according to German law. Although Merkel is a consensus seeker and previous chancellors have not taken bold moves during the window, there are no legislative constraints on her authority at this period.

Her focus is on the Ukraine and the European Union’s climate discussions.

“She will have to play a significant role since the coalition talks will involve everyone in Berlin,” a top conservative in Berlin said of the EU’s climate protection policies.

Armin Laschet, Merkel’s would-be conservative successor, and Greens co-leader Robert Habeck both expect coalition negotiations to run for the rest of the year. After the Sept. 24, 2017 election, they went on until the following March.

A fractured vote means coalition formation could be more complicated this time, meaning Merkel could easily surpass her former mentor, Helmut Kohl, as the longest-serving post-war chancellor – a record she would set on Dec. 17.

Such a scenario would give Merkel the chance to broker a new round of so-called ‘Normandy format’ talks with Russia, Ukraine and France in an effort to quell the conflict in eastern Ukraine – negotiations she pushed for during a trip to Kyiv last month.

“I advocate working on having another meeting at the political leadership level with myself, the French president and of course the Russian and Ukrainian presidents,” she said during that trip, making clear this could happen after Sept. 26.

One person is especially nervous about her future role: French President Emmanuel Macron.

French diplomats say they are worried that coalition talks could drag on into the first half of next year, when Macron will need a strong German partner both to champion his European agenda during France’s rotating EU presidency and when he faces French presidential elections.

“In that case it would be even best for Macron if Merkel remained in office until the presidential election in April 2022,” said Claire Demesmay, France expert at the DGaP German Council on Foreign Relations.


Merkel and Macron’s governments have been scoping out what they can agree during the French EU presidency, and a productive tenure would boost Macron’s re-election chances, Demesmay said.

“It would be very awful for him if a new coalition formed at the start of 2022,” she continued, “since the German partner would be largely absent for agreements.”

Merkel has previously stated that she will have a part in the EU’s climate protection efforts, dubbed “Fit for 55,” beyond September.

“We want to make sure we have a proper transition,” she stated in July, implying that serious negotiations on this could begin while a new German government was being created and she was still acting chancellor.

Her aim is not only to defend German interests.

Merkel, dubbed the “climate chancellor” in 2007 for advocating the topic among Group of Eight leaders and pressing for Germany’s switch to renewable energy, wants the EU to move more quickly on climate protection.

Even while the business end of negotiations on “Fit for 55” policy will be next year, one EU official, who did not want to be identified, suggested the group might use Merkel in the room during talks.

“The question is whether we will be able to solve them (climate policy negotiations) without Merkel in the room. I believe we will be able to… but it will undoubtedly become more difficult “Added the diplomat.

  • Reuters