Is Angela Merkel staging a comeback?

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?

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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