Since last year’s Brexit referendum result, every international event or election has been viewed in the UK through the prism of what it might mean for the country during and after the complicated negotiation process.
Britain’s role both in Europe and on the world stage will almost certainly change due to Brexit, in what way remains to be seen. Some of the international events of the past year might not actually have a very significant impact on how this unfolds and whether we emerge as a truly ‘global Britain’ or as a diminished regional power. Others, like the election of Emmanuel Macron as French President, probably will. One looming election in Europe however will definitely influence the further course of the Brexit negotiations and thus the near to medium term future of the UK in general: the German elections in September.
The Germans are known in the UK for being fervently pro-European. Merkel is regarded as the leading political figure in Europe and a passionate supporter of the European project. Brexiteers like Nigel Farage characterise her as an example for all that is wrong in the EU and as someone standing in the way of Britain on her path to a better, stronger and more prosperous future outside of the EU. This belief is mistaken, though. Angela Merkel is not only the most powerful politician in Europe, she is also the most important ally Britain has within the EU, at a time when the UK is desperately in need of sympathetic and supportive leaders on the other side of the negotiation table.
After September’s election in Germany, the country will be either led by Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) or Chancellor Martin Schulz (SPD). Both these options aren’t perfect for the UK and it is correct to point out that both are broadly pro-European and anti-Brexit. However, if we could choose the German Bundeskanzler ourselves the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union would be by far the preferable choice. Here are the three main reasons for this:
1) Merkel’s pragmatism
Angela Merkel is no ideologue, she is a quintessentially pragmatic politician. Her pro-Europeanism stems from the realisation that European integration was, and is, fundamentally beneficial and existentially important for Germany in a way that it isn’t for most other EU member states. She knows that Germany probably would not have been reunified and would be significantly weaker strategically, politically and economically without the EU.
Her views on Europe are defined by pragmatism and rationality, not ideology. Martin Schulz and his SPD are much more fanatically, ideologically pro-European or “Europhile populist”, as The Washington Post put it. Merkel is likely to favour a Brexit deal that protects German and European interests, but also acknowledges the importance of strong British-German and British-European relations, whereas Schulz supports a very hard-line approach in line with his anti-British sentiments.
2) The CSU
Should Angela Merkel and her CDU lead the next German government she would do so in tandem with the CSU, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party. And whilst the CSU – at least by British standards – is pro-European, it is also the least ardently euro-federalist of the mainstream parties in Germany, even less so than the CDU itself. It is no coincidence that David Cameron went to Bavaria when trying to find support for his European reform agenda ahead of last year’s referendum. His soft Eurosceptic views fell on rather fertile grounds there and the party leader, Horst Seehofer, referred to Cameron’s proposals as "pure CSU".
Additionally, the Bavarian economy is closely linked to the UK, even more so than the rest of Germany’s. From the UK’s perspective, the CSU’s involvement in the German government therefore ought to be seen as advantageous. Due to the close links between CDU und CSU this can only happen should Merkel remain in power.
3) Stability and continuity
Most importantly, however, is the fact that a Merkel-led administration would ensure stability and continuity.
Already it seems likely that the negotiation process will be put on hold to await the formation of the new German government. Should Schulz win, an entirely new government would be put together, a complicated and time-consuming process in German politics. All the while, Merkel would remain in power at the head of a caretaker government, whilst not being able to play any role whatsoever on the European stage. As the Brexit clock is continuing to run down, further delays would certainly have a detrimental effect on the Brexit negotiations.
Additionally, the need would arise for the British government to reassess its entire negotiating strategy were there to be a new German leader. Without the experienced and respected Merkel, Germany would also be weakened on the European stage and lose influence over the Brexit proceedings. This surely would not be in Britain’s best interests, as Germany currently balances out the more aggressively anti-British stances of countries like France.
Angela Merkel’s continuation in office is vitally important for Brexit Britain. Brexiteers might not like her, and disagree passionately with her European policy, but right now she is the best leader of our most important European partner on offer. Let’s hope the German electorate agrees.