As Angela Merkel said goodbye to her Stralsund constituency of 30 years on 21 September and visited Paris one last time as chancellor on 16 September, one might get the wrong impression that she is not long for the international stage.
As Europe looks towards the 26 September elections in Berlin, Merkel and her team of ministers are set to remain an interim government until a new government is formed – a process known to take a while.
“Until the formation of the government, Mrs Chancellor – dear Angela Merkel – and myself will continue to work hand in hand on major issues,” said French President Emmanuel Macron on 16 September on the occasion of Merkel’s visit in Paris.
Merkel said that the two would aim to ensure that there is no standstill on necessary decisions, noting Afghanistan, Belarus, Ukraine and EU emission targets as essential issues.
Yet, Germany’s partners will likely face a significant time gap during which Merkel will continue to represent Germany as acting chancellor ahead of a future government that may very well be led by a party other than hers.
As both the EU and Germany face decisions, ongoing negotiations, and critical international summits, Germany’s partners may wonder how much stock they can put into the commitments of an acting chancellor.
Its partners will also be unsure how long the formation of a new government will take after the 26 September polls.
Will it be within a month as happened in 2009, or will the next German government take a whopping 172 days to form, as in 2017?
Most observers agree that it is unlikely that the 2017 record will be broken but are uncertain how long it will take. A reasonable baseline is the 86 days it took in 2013.
Either way, Angela Merkel will be serving as acting chancellor for months, potentially including the EU-Western Balkans summit in Slovenia at the beginning of October and the G20 summit in Rome at the end of October and COP26 in Glasgow in November. Germany then assumes the G7 presidency once more in 2022.
The all-important COP26
For the “climate chancellor” Merkel, the preparation for and attendance of the UK hosted COP26 in November in Glasgow is already not being excluded, a government spokesperson told EURACTIV.
The current government aims to “advance worldwide climate protection”, which is set to continue after becoming the acting administration on 26 September. It would also seek to “comply with all international and national obligations in this regard,” the spokesperson added.
Legally speaking, an acting government is free to do as it pleases. However, constitutional experts say that the transitory nature of acting governments “demands the greatest possible political restraint” as per the German Bundestag.
The COP26 aims to “secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach.” To that end, it calls upon countries to accelerate the phase-out of coal and to hold developed countries to their $100 billion annual climate finance pledge.
Acting chancellor Merkel leaves behind a country set to phase out coal in 2038 and has not yet pledged sufficient amounts of climate finance ahead of COP26.
Rich countries, except for Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden, needed to commit additional climate finance, said John Nordbo of Care International on 21 September.
Whether acting chancellor Merkel will be able to commit the world’s fourth-largest economy to an accelerated coal phase-out or whether she will be able to pledge additional climate funds is politically questionable.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Alice Taylor]