It is often said that Germany is too big for Europe but not big enough for the world. In her 16 years at the top, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has amassed sufficient political capital to punch above her weight on the international stage with minimal exertion.
She held power tête-à-têtes with leaders from George W. Bush to Vladimir Putin to Xi Jinping. She was honoured at summits and global forums and the narrower the circle of leaders became, the more she stood out, often looking like the grown-up in the room.
With her exit, Germany lost a great deal of its weight and prestige on the international circuit and her successor will face the tough task of showing leadership beyond the federal frontiers.
During the Merkel years, Germany maintained its strong relationship with the US, even during testing periods under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. The sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan by Joe Biden and the latest AUKUS deal may raise further questions about the dependability of the world biggest economy, leading a new Chancellor to take a more reserved approach.
Meanwhile, as economic ties with China continued to deepen over the last decade, Germany will find itself in a tricky balancing act of actively engaging the People’s Republic while leading European strategic autonomy.
A post-Merkel Germany will likely see a more assertive France in the EU, particularly with Emmanuel Macron’s Euro-centric ambitions and the Presidential Elections in April 2022. The new Chancellor might have to get used to a rather Franco-German framing of European politics.
Russia remains Germany’s most complex geopolitical question. The Russian-speaking Merkel enjoyed a responsive relationship with Putin, even while she was advocating for sanctions against individuals associated with his government. Besides historic relations and the neighbouring regions, the incoming Bundesregierung will also have to consider the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Merkel’s importance at the global table is not automatically handed down to the new Chancellor, but the country’s next leader will face no shortage of global crises that will present Germany the opportunity to retain its place in the world.
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