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Merkel is down, but not out

September 20, 2016

At her press conference as CDU chairperson after the elections in Berlin, Merkel came across as unusually self-critical, but also decisive. This is sign enough that she wants another term, writes DW's Christoph Strack.

Deutschland Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel in Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Angela Merkel managed to come across as self-critical but defiant at the same time. She took full responsibility for the record-breaking bad performance of her party at the state elections. But at the same she appeared decisive, determined and even calm – like a renewed CDU candidate for the federal elections in 2017.

"If I could, I would turn back time many, many years." Here Merkel sounded wistful. Politics is about the here and now and the future. Those who try to look back too far may end up turning into a pillar of salt, like the biblical story of Lot's wife. But Merkel's view is that many are responsible for the failure to confront the global challenge of migration and refugees early enough. "God knows, we wouldn't have won any prizes for our integration efforts."

Insight into failed communication

Angela Merkel has been demonstrably processing the mistakes of recent years and the weaknesses in her policies – or rather, the weaknesses in effectively communicating her policies. She no longer wants to talk about the phrase "We can do this" – which has lost any real meaning. Instead, she wants to focus on making changes to the Dublin Regulation, which is the legal framework for accepting and distributing refugees within the European Union.

And she is "fully committed" to making sure that a "situation" like 2015 never happens again. Yet she stands by the decisions she made last year. And she has "an absolutely sure feeling" – and here Merkel wanted to show her emotions – that Germany will emerge from this difficult period better than "when we went into it."

Strack Christoph Kommentarbild App
DW's Christoph StrackImage: DW

It is like seeing the emotions of a physicist conducting a successful experiment. And yet it's hard to overlook such unusually self-critical words for a party chairperson and chancellor.

Her introductory remarks at Konrad-Adenauer-Haus lasted for 13 minutes – which is exceptionally long for a statement at a press conference. The results of the elections in her home state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and in Berlin have hit her and her party hard. And you can see that it's affected her.

The CDU forges on – carefully and quietly

According to reports by participants, the meeting of the CDU party executive committee was a quiet affair. It was not about discussing consequences or the question of selecting a candidate to run for chancellor. The meeting of the CDU leaders was marked by the quiet yet insistent expression of great unease. The atmosphere was very serious. Also taken very seriously were discussions about a reconciliation with its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, and concerns about addressing fear in the general public. Merkel knows, of course, that she will not be able to change the opinions of those fixed on the catchphrase "Merkel must go!" But you can see that this is perhaps also why she has opened up and is showing her emotions.

Merkel hasn't lost yet and she doesn't want to lose. She's down, but not out. Although she naturally didn't declare her candidature for chancellor on Monday – or was not yet able to – her defiance and decisiveness showed her to be election-ready.

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Deutsche Welle Strack Christoph Portrait
Christoph Strack Christoph Strack is a senior author writing about religious affairs.@Strack_C
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