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 more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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