Merkel’s Replacement Is One Step Closer
As the Greens announce their first chancellor candidate, Merkel’s party must overcome internal turmoil to decide on theirs.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Germany’s top two parties name candidates for chancellor, Iran and Saudi Arabia continue talks, and rebels move closer to Chad’s capital.
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Germany Moves Closer to a New Chancellor
The choice for Angela Merkel’s successor will be narrowed down Monday as the two leading parties announce their candidates for chancellor ahead of a general election in September.
Merkel’s CDU/CSU Christian democrat bloc has endured a turbulent path to today’s impending announcement. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had been anointed Merkel’s replacement in 2018 until disastrous results in the 2019 European elections led to her resignation the following year. The party sought to reset in early January, nominating Armin Laschet, a Merkel ally, to serve as CDU party chairman—a natural launchpad to the chancellery.
Like many countries during the pandemic, public opinion has been on a roller coaster as Germany’s handling of the pandemic has wavered. Into that turmoil has stepped Markus Söder, whose media-friendly persona and decisive approach to the coronavirus pandemic in Bavaria have endeared him to the German public. His status has grown so much over the past year that public polling places him as first choice for chancellor among the German public, with 37 percent backing him in a recent survey. Laschet garnered 13 percent support in the same poll.
Even as Söder’s star is rising, his party bloc’s popularity is diminishing, reflected by bad losses in two state elections in March. Those defeats match recent polls, where support for the CDU/CSU has dropped from 37 percent to 28 percent over the past year.
The CDU/CSU dip has coincided with a surge in support for Germany’s Green party, which is expected to announce its chancellor candidate Monday. Recent polling puts the Greens eight points behind the CDU/CSU, a gap that has narrowed from 19 points at the beginning of the year.
The Green challenge. The Greens opted for Annalena Baerbock for the role. Baerbock stands out as both the youngest candidate and only woman in the running. Robert Habeck, her rival until Monday, comes from the party’s centrist camp and has been described as a German Emmanuel Macron. In a signal of their changing fortunes, this is the first time the Greens will name a chancellor candidate.
The new coalition. Although the parties will fight it out in September’s elections, a coalition government is still the likely outcome. If polls hold and the CDU/CSU ditch their Social Democrat partners to enter a Green coalition, they would follow their southern neighbors in Austria (as well as Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Sweden).
“Conservative-green coalitions” are, Liam Hoare writes in Foreign Policy, “if not the future, are at least a future for European politics,” as he outlines the relative smoothness with which Austria’s alliance has run since entering power together in early 2020.
The World This Week
On Tuesday, April 20, Reporters Without Borders releases its annual international press freedom index.
The European Medicines Agency is expected to announce its conclusions on the safety of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.
UEFA, the European soccer governing body, meets for its annual Congress as top clubs propose a breakaway European super-league.
On Wednesday, April 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to both houses of the Russian parliament.
On Thursday, April 22, U.S. President Joe Biden hosts roughly 40 world leaders for a two-day summit to “galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis.”
Putin meets with Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. The meeting comes after Russia detained two Belarusians for allegedly plotting a coup against Lukashenko, who has accused the CIA of assisting with the plot.
The Brazilian Senate panel investigating President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic hold its first meeting.
On Friday April 23, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will host bilateral talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Saturday, April 24, marks a day of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide. Biden is expected to deliver remarks following a pledge to become the first U.S. president to recognize the atrocity.
An 11-day international peace conference on the future of Afghanistan is scheduled to take place in Istanbul. The Taliban are likely to boycott the event.
On Sunday, April 25, Albania holds parliamentary elections. The ruling socialist party is expected to win the most seats but could fall short of the absolute majority it won in 2017.
What We’re Following Today
Riyadh and Tehran begin talks. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been conducting direct talks over calming tensions between the two powers, the Financial Times reports. The discussions, which began in Baghdad on April 9, initially covered recent drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Houthis. The talks are the first sign of warming relations since the two cut diplomatic ties in 2016. A further round of talks is expected to take place this week.
Iran’s lead negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, said a “new understanding” was emerging in international talks over a U.S. return to the Iran nuclear deal, currently taking place in Vienna. “The drafting of the text can begin now, and the Iranian delegation has prepared and presented its text on the nuclear sphere and the lifting of sanctions,” Araghchi told Iranian television, adding that hurdles still remained.
Chad rebels advance. Rebel fighters have advanced within range of Chad’s capital of N’Djamena, as both the United Kingdom and United States told their citizens to leave the country. The rebel group, Front for Change and Concord in Chad, said it had captured military garrisons on Chad’s northern border on April 11, the same day as the country’s presidential election, and have headed south since then. President Idriss Deby is expected to extend his 30-year rule after provisional results showed him winning a majority in all but one of the departments counted so far.
Biden’s refugee plans. The White House plans to announce an increase to its refugee admissions cap on May 15, after pressure from Democratic Party members and rights groups over the delayed move. Biden had said he would increase the cap, lowered to 15,000 annual admissions by President Donald Trump, in early February but has yet to sign the order. Drawing on lessons from Europe and recent U.S. history, James Traub, writing in Foreign Policy, offered solutions for how Biden can reconcile both the moral and political tensions to move toward a more humane refugee policy.
Keep an Eye On
China’s new currency. China’s digital currency does not seek to replace the dollar as a reserve currency, a senior central bank official told the Boao Forum on Sunday, amid U.S. fears over the introduction of the “digital yuan.” “The motivation for the e-yuan, for now at least, is focusing primarily on domestic use,” People’s Bank of China Deputy Gov. Li Bo told the forum. U.S. officials are said to be watching the development of the currency closely for its potential use in circumventing U.S. sanctions. The currency is currently being trialed in China and is expected to be rolled out more broadly at the Winter Olympics next February.
Navalny’s health. The Russian dissident Alexey Navalny is at risk of dying “at any moment,” according to his personal physician. Navalny is three weeks into a hunger strike in protest of the medical treatment he has received since he was incarcerated at a Russian penal colony. On Sunday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned the Russian government of “consequences” if Navalny were to die in custody.
J&J’s return. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday that he expects the United States to resume its administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine “in some form” by the end of the week. The vaccine’s rollout had been paused under the recommendation of U.S. regulators after six patients reported unusual blood clots. More than 7 million shots of the vaccine had been given out prior to the suspension.
Odds and Ends
Greek universities are experiencing a crisis of confidence in their students as remote learning takes the place of traditional education. Professors have noted surprisingly high marks from previously poor students, raising suspicions that the students may be using underhanded tactics. “Result averages are up, and people we haven’t seen in years are showing up for exams because the system makes it easy to cheat,” Kostas Kosmatos, an assistant professor of criminology at Thrace’s Democritus University, told AFP. Sofia, a psychology student, admitted to have taken two exams “on behalf of two of my friends, and nobody realized.”
Resourceful students have created technological workarounds to boost their chances during exams, with students at the University of Crete crowdsourcing answers in live chats and even enlisting a linguistic expert to help them during exams. “But even he got a verse wrong,” Angela Kastrinaki, the dean of the University of Crete’s literature department, told AFP. “So I got 50 papers with the same mistake. It was funny.”
Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn