Europe minus Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Reuters

Saturday will mark the beginning of an historic turning point for European politics as 1,001 voting members of Germany's Christian Democratic Union, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, hold an online conference to elect a new leader.

Here are the basic facts:


  • The candidates are Friedrich Merz, a business-friendly candidate of the center right, Armin Laschet, governor of Germany's largest state, and Norbert Röttgen, the current chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee.
  • Any of these three could win. Merz has pledged to lead the CDU "out from the shadow of Angela Merkel" by leading the party toward the center right. The other two contenders have offered themselves as centrists and consensus builders.
  • The winner will enter negotiations with the CDU's sister party, the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union and its popular leader, Markus Söder, to choose a CDU-CSU unity candidate for September's national election. That choice will be made in late March or early April.
  • Watch the popularity ratings of this weekend's winner over the next few weeks. Those numbers will likely determine whether the new CDU leader or the CSU's Söder will be chosen as the union's candidate for chancellery.
  • That CDU-CSU unity candidate is highly likely to replace Merkel as Germany's chancellor in September, possibly in coalition with the Green party.

Europe will be watching all this closely, because Merkel's September exit will mark a crucial turning point for the European Union. Over the past 15 years, Merkel's ability to use Germany's unrivalled political and economic muscle and her own powers of persuasion have helped Europe navigate:

  • The sovereign debt crisis that followed the 2008-2009 global financial market meltdown
  • The migrant crisis that followed Syria's civil war
  • Increasingly troubled relations dividing Europe's North from South, and East from West
  • Ever more complex relationships with the United States and China
  • The process of moving beyond Brexit to build a new relationship with the UK
  • The response to the global pandemic

She certainly hasn't done all that alone. But as leader of the EUs most influential member, and by virtue of her experience and of international respect for her judgment and ability, she has proven indispensable for the EU's ability to absorb an extraordinary series of shocks.

Europe faces new challenges in 2021. The enormous economic recovery fund for EU members must be successfully rolled out. In a COVID world, there must be wisely crafted new rules for how much EU member states will tax and spend.

There's work to do with US President-elect Joe Biden to bolster transatlantic relations. The EU parliament will consider an historic and controversial investment deal with China. There are potential crises with Turkey to manage and complex relations with Russia to consider.

French President Emmanuel Macron will now move to center stage, but there are factors that will limit his ability to fill the vacuum left behind by Merkel.

First, given Germany's economic and political clout, Macron will need a capable and willing German partner, and for most of this year, Merkel will remain in place with reduced influence. It will take time for Germany's new leader to establish himself.

Second, just as Merkel departs in September, Macron must look to his own campaign for re-election next year. France has plenty of health, economic, and security challenges to keep him busy.

Bottom line: Saturday will open a new chapter in Europe's history — the post-Merkel EU. We'll learn more about what that means for Germany soon enough. Its meaning for Europe — and its ability to weather the next unexpected storm — will take much longer.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

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Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, everybody. And a Quick Take for you. I wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan. I'll tell you, I've talked about it in the media over the last couple of weeks and almost every questioner has been trying to prod me towards, "are we heading to war?" Then I was with some friends at the Trilateral Commission on Friday. I like that group a lot. It's one of these groups that a lot of conspiracy theorists pretend secretly run the world, like the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations. Now having attended all three, I can tell you, if they do run the world, they are not inviting me into the rooms where they're making those decisions. If they are doing that, they're also doing a lousy job of it.

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Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

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