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Failure to form government weakens Merkel. What’s next for Germany?

Germany, long the backbone of European stability, descended into political crisis on Monday as after talks to form a coalition government failed and Chancellor Angela Merkel called for new elections. John Yang talks to Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, about what it means for that country, Europe and the U.S.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Germany descended into political crisis today, as Chancellor Angela Merkel called for new elections after talks to form a coalition government collapsed.

    John Yang has more.

  • John Yang:

    Thanks, Judy.

    Chancellor Merkel’s 12 years in office have cemented Germany as Europe’s backbone of stability. But her political future is now in jeopardy. She was weakened in national elections two months ago by a new and strong challenge from the far right.

    Overhanging it all? Merkel’s open-door immigration policy of the last two years.

    For what all this means for Germany, for Europe, and for the United States, we turn now to Ian Bremmer, the founder and president of the Eurasia Group.

    Ian Bremmer, thanks for joining us.

    As we said, Germany for so long has been sort of the rock of stability in Europe, politically and economically. How did we get to this place?

  • Ian Bremmer:

    Well, that’s right.

    And, certainly, since the financial crisis in 2008, the one thing that everyone could count on in Europe was a strong German chancellor in Angela Merkel. But, you know, this last election didn’t go well for her.

    It was the worst performance of her party in decades. And it’s not because the economy was doing badly. Indeed, well over 80 percent of Germans were optimistic about the future of the German economy, and the middle class and the working class, unlike in France, the U.K., or the United States, felt pretty good.

    But they hated her migration policy. You remember when Merkel said, we can do this, and they allowed in a million refugees from Syria to come into Germany, it was incredibly unpopular. She had to back away from the policy pretty quickly. She didn’t get support from other European nations, certainly not from President Obama or later Trump, or from the Germans themselves.

    And that really hurt her. It also opened the door for the far-right Alternatives for Germany Deutschland party.

  • John Yang:

    What does this say about or how does this play into the story, the narrative of these far-right parties across Europe gaining strength and hurting the established parties?

  • Ian Bremmer:

    It’s very much of a piece.

    Now, to be very clear, there’s no remote conversation about Germany leaving the Eurozone. Everyone in Germany understands that it keeps the cost of German exports low, it benefits them. They are a structural beneficiary of staying in. So, it’s not euro-skepticism, but it is about building walls.

    It’s about keeping Germany more German. And the fact that 13 percent of the population voted for this party, the Alternatives for Deutschland. It’s the first time a nationalist party has been in the Bundestag since World War II. You only needed 5 percent to get in. They got 13 percent.

    That’s extraordinary. And it really points to former East Germany, which feels kind of like Rust Belt or Appalachia, but in Germany; 50 percent of voting age people in former East Germany say they don’t believe reunification worked, that they were left behind, and 27 percent of that population actually voted for the AFD in recent elections.

    That trend is only going to grow. And that’s one of the reasons why if you were to have new early elections in Germany, the potential that outcome is going to be even worse for Merkel than the last election she had is very real.

  • John Yang:

    You mentioned the possibility of new elections.

    Mrs. Merkel has said she doesn’t like the idea of a minority government. She seemed to be opening the door to new elections, but you say that’s not — the outcome will hurt her even more, likely to hurt her even more?

  • Ian Bremmer:

    It could. It could easily.

    There is no good outcome here for Merkel. This clearly weakens her significantly. It means that the ability of the Germans to act as a real partner for Emmanuel Macron in France to try to strengthen European institutions is really off the table right now.

    Now, it’s really up to the German president to decide how he wants to respond right now. Does he want to put Merkel forward or someone else as chancellor and have a vote in parliament, and then, after that process, you can have early elections, or force Angela Merkel to try to work harder to put a coalition together?

    But, you know, I think, even if they try to put together another grand coalition, it’s very unlikely that would cohere into a government. So, whether it’s sooner or later, I think we’re likely heading for another round of elections.

    And, as you just suggested, the outcome is not going to return a strong Germany. I do believe Merkel is ultimately likely to still get another term out of this. But it’s very different than the Merkel-driven Germany that we have seen in previous years.

  • John Yang:

    Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group, thanks for helping us understand this.

  • Ian Bremmer:

    My pleasure.

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