Opinion: Does Schulz scare Merkel? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.05.2017
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Opinion: Does Schulz scare Merkel?

Four points behind! The SPD is back where it was before Martin Schulz's nomination: in a rut. Whether he can actually threaten Merkel's chances at re-election remains to be seen, says Volker Wagener.

We all laughed at the cartoon that Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper ran after the SPD (Germany's Social Democratic Party) pulled miracle candidate Martin Schulz out of the proverbial hat.

It featured a drawing of Merkel, amused and gleefully observing the excited commotion surrounding her challenger's candidacy. The accompanying speech bubble featured the words: "Come on Schulzi, scare me!"

'Come on Schulzi, scare me!'

The cartoon gave two reasons to laugh: When was the last time the SPD struck fear into the hearts of its political opponents? And the flip adolescent quip from Merkel represented the polar opposite to the real Angela Merkel.

But current opinion polls make it easy to forget: That which no one expected, in fact happened. Schulzi scared the hell out of "Mutti"! (Merkel has been dubbed "Mutti," which means "Mummy"). But not for long.

And what does that tell us? Nothing at all! With federal elections several months away, it has become a universal political platitude to point out that anything can happen between now and then. The only thing that is unique and incalculable this time around is what exactly will affect the mood of Germany's collective psyche, and ultimately the country's voters.

DW's Volker Wagener

DW's Volker Wagener

The Merkel Factor is back

In late 2015 and early 2016 Angela Merkel seemed politically dead. The once popular Merkel brand was facing bankruptcy in the wake of her refugee policy decisions. Had her CDU (Christian Democratic Union) still had its pre-Merkel line up - a bunch of alpha males fighting for primacy - then she would have lost her job as party boss and chancellor.

But since the clever East Bloc Girl managed to knock off all of those Old Men of the West over the years, and still had enough authority to keep a weak, Sigmar Gabriel-led SPD in check, she is right there where she was 12 years ago: She is once again the undisputed chancellor of Germany.

And that has a lot to do with the path that the world is on right now. Her refugee policy, although well-intentioned and fundamentally correct - but in part poorly implemented - is no longer the only yardstick with which voters measure her success.

Trust is the currency with which good policy is repaid these days. The Germans, it seems, are more fearful of the Trumps of the world than with the topic of refugees - which has quieted considerably. They fear the erosion of international cooperation, the denigration of the EU, national egoism and chauvinism. Whether Orban, Putin, Erdogan or Trump, Brexit or the USA's new isolationism - such topics anger, annoy and scare voters. The only thing that can help is … yes, you guessed it: Merkel's trademark gesture - the Merkel rhombus, which has itself become a symbol of projecting "calm" and "steadiness."

Doubts cast on center-left leadership

All that and more are reflected in the latest opinion polls. Some 69 percent of those surveyed said that Merkel's leadership was the reason Germany was doing so well in such uncertain times. Martin Schulz still has nothing to show, and does not have the advantage of incumbency. The only thing that he once had, was the euphoria of a fresh start. Nevertheless, he may be down, but he's not out. He and Merkel cannot really damage one another in terms of their political programs. Both are devoted Europeans, and also representatives of a broad political center - where elections are still won in Germany.

That also explains why the Green Party and Alternative for Germany (AfD) are currently in retreat and the Left Party is in utter stagnation. This gravitation towards the protection and warmth of the political center has benefited the two major parties - which not long ago were in danger of losing the honorary distinction of being known as "people's parties." It must also be said that in the rush of real time digital communication that dominates our current political age, every rumor, Tweet or fake news story can very quickly manipulate opinions, so polls now don't tell us anything. And that is just fine. Let Schulzi scare Mutti a bit - or not. People will vote on September 24. Maybe the result will tell us more about Trump & Co., than about Mutti & Schulzi. 

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