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Germany faces tight race to fill Angela Merkel's shoes

Germany is one of America's most important allies. Nearly every American president since George W. Bush has worked closely with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But for the first time since 2005, she will not be a candidate when Germans head to the polls this Sunday to vote for her successor. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant is in Berlin with a preview of this upcoming election.

AIRED: September 24, 2021 | 0:06:46
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Germany is one of America's most important allies, and nearly every American

president since George W. Bush has worked closely with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But for the first time since 2005, she will not be a candidate when Germans head to the

polls this Sunday to vote for her successor.

Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant is in Berlin with a preview of the upcoming election.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Judy, this is the end of an era.

Angela Merkel is slipping away from the political stage with minimal fanfare, which is entirely

consistent with her modest, understated style. She's leaving behind huge shoes to fill, and

there's a very tight race to replace her as chancellor.

For 16 years, Angela Merkel has led Germany and been Europe's most dominant politician.

They call her Mutti, or Mom. Now, as Mutti is leaving the chancellery, Germany is out

of its comfort zone.

PETER NEUMANN, Christian Democratic Union: I think she will be remembered as a very important

statesperson who kept Europe together.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Peter Neumann is a senior adviser to Merkel's center-right Christian

Democrat Party.

PETER NEUMANN: History will remember her as a successful chancellor, as a popular chancellor,

as a chancellor that brought Germans a great deal of prosperity

MALCOLM BRABANT: President Biden saluted the shy research scientist who became the first

East German to assume her nation's highest office since reunification.

JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: On behalf of the United States, thank you,

Angela, for your career of strong, principled leadership.

And I want to thank you for your continued support for the longstanding goal of Europe

whole, free and at peace.

MALCOLM BRABANT: In 2010, Merkel saved the euro currency by coordinating a financial

bailout for Greece when it went bust. There were fears that other weak European economies

would collapse and the euro would tank.

ANGELA MERKEL, German Chancellor (through translator): Europe fails when the euro fails.

Europe wins when the euro wins.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Merkel's most controversial unilateral act was to throw open Germany's

borders to Syrian refugees in 2015. In all, Germany granted asylum to over a million in

that first year of Europe's migration crisis.

ANGELA MERKEL (through translator): And I have to say quite honestly, if we now start

having to apologize even for showing a friendly face in emergency situations, then this is

not my country.

MALCOLM BRABANT: People across the developing world saw this as an invitation to enter Europe.

Only Sweden emulated Germany. Partner nations resented being pressured. Hungary erected

a border fence, wrecking the E.U.'s commitment to open internal frontiers.

Six years on, the flow of asylum seekers into Europe is still strong.

Sonya Sceats runs a London-based pro refugee nonprofit. She thinks Merkel was right.

SONYA SCEATS, Chief Executive, Freedom From Torture: Germany and Sweden tried to start

a grownup conversation with other European states, and other European states weren't

willing to step up to the plate.

MALCOLM BRABANT: The influx caused a backlash at home, and, as Peter Neumann explains, led

to a resurgence of the far right in East Germany.

PETER NEUMANN: Significant parts of the electorate didn't like it at all and especially the East,

where she's coming from was very aggrieved about it and still holds it against her. I

think that's the point where she lost the former East Germany.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Since Merkel opened Germany's borders in 2015. European right-wingers like

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen have secured a stronger footing with their

anti-immigration rhetoric.

MARINE LE PEN, President, National Rally Party (through translator): All of the migrants

who didn't stay in Germany went off amusing themselves in other European countries without

asking for our permission. Those who didn't remain in Germany went to Sweden, Italy, France,

weighing heavily on our finances, and creating conditions for conflict.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Unlike last time, when immigration dominated, climate change is this election's

hot issue. Polls suggest that Germany is steering to the left.

Most Germans expect Social Democrat Olaf Scholz to replace Merkel. As finance minister in

Merkel's coalition government, Scholz is a known quantity, if a little dull. His main

rival, Armin Laschet, who replaced Merkel as head of the center-right Christian Democrats,

is also charisma-challenged.

But that's not a disadvantage in Germany. The main outsider, Annalena Baerbock of the

environmentalist Greens, is predicted to be kingmaker in the next inevitable coalition.

OLAF SCHOLZ, Social Democratic Party (through translator): Many citizens can see me as the

next head of government, the next chancellor. And I make no secret that, above all, I would

like to create a government in alliance with the Greens.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Laschet is promising Merkel-like stability.

ARMIN LASCHET, Christian Democratic Union (through translator): I stand for the cohesion

of Europe in these difficult times, a climate-neutral industry and strong economy, and a clear course

for national security.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Baerbock wants to force the Christian Democrats into opposition.

ANNALENA BAERBOCK, Leader, German Green Party (through translator): I stand for no longer

using half-measures to protect the climate, a policy that finally brings children and

families to its core and a human rights-led foreign policy in the heart of Europe.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Devastating floods caused by unnaturally heavy summer rain pushed climate

change onto the election agenda. The death toll is still unclear, but could be as high

as 300. Restoration could cost $30 billion.

Activist Jacob Heinze has gone without food for three weeks to highlight climate change.

At the hunger striker'S camp, spokeswoman Helen Luebbert had harsh words for the greens.

HELEN LUEBBERT, Climate Change Activist: They are not the solution. Even their program is

not enough. And, therefore, I think it's important that they are part of the coalition, they

do everything they can within the political spectrum, within the Parliament, and then

we definitely need opposition from without the Parliament.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Facing possible defeat, center-right parliamentary candidate Klaus-Dieter Grohler

was trying to woo votes with bratwurst and beer.

KLAUS-DIETER GROHLER, Christian Democratic Union (through translator): People are asking

critical questions, but I'm not getting the sense that they are really interested in a

change of government.

MALCOLM BRABANT: That's not what the polls say. This voter won't be swayed by a sausage.

MAN: Angela Merkel was -- I think she did a good job overall, but we need to do something

different.

MALCOLM BRABANT: As Election Day approaches, the party of Angela Merkel is hoping Germans

will avoid change, and play safe, as they have done so often in the past.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Berlin.

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