Ms Merkel’s decision to remain as Germany’s leader until 2021 but step down as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) may have set the stage for a power struggle at the top levels of the EU’s biggest economy, two academics warned.
The German Chancellor announced in October she would not seek re-election as CDU leader after 18 years at the helm.
Ms Merkel’s favoured successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, popularly known as AKK, was duly elected as head of the party on December 7.
But the unconventional situation of a Chancellor who is not also leader of the biggest party in the Bundestag will at the very least lead to uncertainty and at worst fuel a fight over leadership of the country, according to the two academics.
Robert Ledger, from Schiller University, and Peter Finn, a politics lecturer at London’s Kingston University, warned an “inevitable seepage” of Angela Merkel’s influence as her departure date approaches would raise the risk of internal splits within the CDU.
Writing for the European Politics and Policy blog at the London School of Economics, the pair said: “Having two people at the helm of the party (even if Merkel has officially stepped down as head of the CDU) appears, at the very least, awkward.
“Three years is a long time to operate as a lame duck, with all the inevitable manoeuvring and intrigue it would lead to, especially for someone who has been as consistently powerful and influential as Merkel has been.
Is it likely she will be able to fully distance herself from attempting to remain the de facto leader of a party she has formally led for almost two decades?
“Moreover, what happens if Merkel and Kramp-Karrenbauer disagree over policy, politics or the future direction of the CDU?”
The pair cited a similar example of Ms Merkel’s predecessor – who was ousted as leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) in 2004 but “staggered on” as Chancellor for 17 months before being voted out – and warned it was “not encouraging for Merkel”.
And they predicted that cracks in the relationship between Ms Merkel and AKK would only widen as the next election approaches.
They wrote: “The chances of such splits may appear slight now, but what happens as the date of Merkel’s departure nears, and the inevitable seepage of her influence it will cause, and Kramp-Karrenbauer, who will surely want to define herself as separate from Merkel to help secure her political future, and others are manoeuvring to replace her as Chancellor?
“Or what if a catastrophe of the magnitude of 9/11, the financial crash or the Eurozone debt crisis occurs?
“Given Germany’s importance on the world stage (portrayed, rightly or wrongly, as the de facto leader of the EU), Berlin’s preoccupation with political succession will likely increase uncertainty throughout the region, as others seek to fill a power vacuum.”