Germany: And Then There Was One

Rainer Jensen/AFP/Getty Images

Germany: And Then There Was One

Chancellor Merkel’s most high-profile political allies seem to have suddenly collapsed like a house of cards. One bright and shining star remains standing.

At the risk of some of our readers declaring, “Here they go again,” yes—here we go again! Here we go highlighting the one bright prospect for leadership in Germany who remains standing in the wake of the fall, resignation or up-and-out promotion of what one source terms a “whole generation” of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fellow party stalwarts.

In a list that reads like a who’s who of Christian Democrat luminaries, a whole string of leading cdu lights in Germany have left the scene over the past year. Former premier of Thuringia Dieter Althaus was voted out, former governor of Baden-Württemberg Gunther Oettinger was hoisted aside to the European Commission, former premier of Hesse Roland Koch resigned, then German President Horst Köhler suddenly resigned last month, followed by former premier of Lower Saxony Christian Wulff resigning his state appointment to accept the non-party political office of president of Germany. To top it all, the former minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia Jurgen Ruttgers tossed in the towel last week, and this week it became Hamburg’s Mayor Ole von Beust’s turn to resign.

Six senior, experienced and influential cdu politicians and one president all lost from the national political scene in the past year. Christian Wulff’s kick upstairs from being a prime contender for the chancellorship and thus a major threat to Merkel’s own political career appears to have been a finely engineered strategy. Oettinger’s sideways transfer to the European Commission was also a matter of political convenience. Yet the remaining losses to the cdu leadership ranks appear to be by voluntary resignation. This certainly has cleared the deck of any threats to Merkel’s shaky hold on the chancellorship from within the ranks of her own party. As to her governing coalition partners, no party boasts any politician of a caliber that can match Merkel’s stature—except one within the cdu sister party, the Bavarian Christian Socialist Union.

No prizes for guessing who!

If you are one of our consistent readers, the answer will be obvious: Germany’s Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, baron of the Holy Roman Empire. He alone has the leadership skill, the charisma and the overwhelming popularity with the German electorate to remain a considerable threat to Angela Merkel for the leadership of the German nation.

It is fascinating to note that whenever she has had the opportunity to eliminate Guttenberg from posing a political threat to her office, Merkel has refrained from doing so. She remained fairly quiet over the Kunduz bombing affair. She made little of the hue and cry over Guttenberg’s threat to eliminate military conscription, or of his public comments on Germany’s need to continue to commit troops to the war in Afghanistan. In fact, she appears to have given Guttenberg carte blanche in running his portfolio.

Chancellor Merkel finds herself in a difficult spot as Germany’s political class packs up and heads for its summer vacation destinations. On the one hand she needs the presence of her coalition’s most publicly popular member to shore up her government’s credibility. On the other she is bound to soon feel Guttenberg nipping at her heels. In the meantime, Guttenberg kicked off the holiday season with a jaunt to the front lines in Afghanistan to visit the German troops.

Germany is obviously set for a political showdown in autumn.

No doubt the real movers and shakers, some of whom may well have engineered at least some of the departures from office of the cdu leaders referred to above, will not be inactive during high summer.

Guttenberg has two choices. He can stay on in Merkel’s cabinet and let things take their course till the coalition becomes ungovernable, then offer himself as leader—or he too could resign, causing certain collapse of the governing coalition, and then go on the political offensive to obtain leadership of Germany via the electoral process.

Either way, Guttenberg remains the one shining light in German politics as the coalition breaks to lick its wounds during summer and anticipates a volatile start to the autumn parliamentary season.