Is Angela Merkel staging a comeback?

Six months ago, after 14 years in power, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's star appeared to be waning. Her coalition government was taking a hit in the polls, prompting some members of her once-loyal bloc to go rogue. Meanwhile, the European Union was as fragmented as ever, and concerns about Merkel's health sparked rumors that she could be forced to hand the reins over to a successor even before her long-planned move to step down next year.

Now, Merkel's competent handling of the COVID-19 crisis in Germany has burnished her image at home and abroad. What will this mean for her political legacy?


Pragmatist-in-chief: Merkel's long political track record suggests that Germany's success at managing the outbreak — it has recorded fewer COVID deaths per capita than the US states of Arizona, Florida, and South Carolina — is at least partly attributable to the chancellor's demeanour and leadership style. A trained scientist, Merkel has long been known for her cautious, analytic, and measured approach to problem solving.

While countries like France, Italy, and Spain were caught off guard as COVID-19 began sweeping Europe, Merkel's evidence-based thinking prompted her to quickly assemble an integrated coronavirus task force made up of the country's university medical faculties to help steer the federal response. And it worked. Germany rolled out one of the most efficient testing and tracing schemes in the world. It also allowed Merkel to ditch her "lame duck" image, with 82 percent of Germans now saying that she has done a good job weathering the COVID storm.

How will Merkel use this momentum? The chancellor's return from the political dead comes just as Germany takes over the European Union's rotating presidency for a six-month term. Merkel will now be charged with steering the bloc out of the worst global recession in decades. (The Euro area's economy is forecast to contract by more than 10 percent this year, according to the IMF.)

Merkel said recently that "extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures," abandoning her usually-cautious approach. Together with France's President Emmanuel Macron, she has called for a whopping 750 billion euro bailout fund for the bloc, the bulk of which would be borrowed from financial markets and given out as grants rather than loans. This is a remarkable about-face for the usually tight-fisted German government (other northern European countries, such as Austria and the Netherlands, are strongly opposed). But Merkel's sense of urgency about the peril facing the European Union seems to have overridden her natural fiscal caution. "For Europe to survive," Merkel said recently, "its economy needs to survive."

Indeed, given the size of Germany's economy — it's the biggest in the eurozone, accounting for more than a quarter of the bloc's economic output — and the fact that the German Federal Bank is the most powerful central bank in Europe, Berlin's cooperation is critical to any EU plan.

If Merkel can pull off this recovery effort, holding the EU project together economically despite its deepening political divisions, it would be a remarkable legacy for a leader whose management of past crises has mostly deepened rifts within the 27-member bloc.

Recall Berlin's handling of the European debt crisis in 2009, where Merkel insisted that highly indebted countries like Greece and Spain impose tough austerity measures. Despite eventually softening her position, Merkel's approach stoked resentment of Germany's political and economic clout. Similarly, Merkel's handling of Europe's refugee crisis in 2015, where she pushed for quotas that would force poorer countries to accept refugees, helped fuel the rise of right wing populists and Euroskeptics in the UK, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Spain — and gave renewed emphasis to identity politics within Germany itself.

The road ahead: As pandemic-induced economic pain deepens in the months ahead, Merkel will surely have her job cut out for her. But now that she has her groove back, can her final act be to rescue Europe?

How much material do we use to send a package? Too much. Does recycling help? Yes – but not really. Packaging material often accumulates as waste, contributing to its own "polluting weight." To solve our packaging dilemma, Finland came up with RePack: a "circular" solution for the reuse of material.

Learn more about RePack in Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

A steady increase of violence in the Sahel region of Africa over the past eight years has imposed fear and hardship on millions of the people who live there. It has also pushed the governments of Sahel countries to work together to fight terrorists.

The region's troubles have also captured the attention of European leaders, who worry that if instability there continues, it could generate a movement of migrants that might well dwarf the EU refugee crisis of 2015-2016.

But is Europe helping to make things better?

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's QuickTake:

It's Monday, coronavirus still going on. Plenty to talk about.

I mean, I guess the biggest news in the United States is the fact that we still don't have any stimulus going forward. I mean, now, keep in mind, this is on the back of an exceptionally strong initial US economic response, over 10% of GDP, ensuring relief for small businesses, for big corporations, and most importantly, for everyday American citizens, many of whom, large double digit numbers, lost their jobs, a lot of whom lost them permanently but didn't have to worry, at least in the near term, because they were getting cash from the government. Is that going to continue?

More Show less

Lebanon's government resigns: Lebanon's government resigned on Monday over last week's twin explosions at Beirut's port, which killed at least 160 people and shattered much of the city's downtown areas. After promising a thorough investigation into why dangerous explosives were stored at the port so close to civilian areas, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he would step down in solidarity with the people." The people in question are furious. Thousands of Lebanese have taken to the streets in recent days demanding "revolution" and the resignation of a political class whose corruption and mismanagement had plunged the country into economic ruin even before last week's blasts. The international community, meanwhile, held a conference on Sunday and pledged $300 million in humanitarian aid to rebuild battered Beirut, with aid distribution to be coordinated by the UN. But the attendees, which included US President Donald Trump, the European Union, and the Gulf Arab states, said that the funds would not be released until the Lebanese government reforms its bloated, inefficient, and corrupt public sector. So far, Beirut's power brokers have resisted change. As rage on the streets intensifies — with angry protesters swarming the city center and setting public property and government buildings ablaze even after cabinet members resigned — it remains unclear who will run Lebanon going forward and guide the country's rebuilding process.

More Show less

"There have been more than 500 deaths of healthcare workers that we know of in this country and more than 80,000 infections of healthcare workers … These are mind-boggling numbers." Former CDC director Dr. Frieden on how the United States is failing the heroes who are fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines. The fact that many still don't have access to basic personal protective equipment this far into the public health crisis is not just unacceptable. It's a symptom of how deeply flawed our healthcare system is as a whole.