Angela Merkel's Party Risks Reverting To Male Domination

The debate about Angela Merkel’s successor shows that her CDU party is lacking in powerful women to take the party forward. As strange as it seems, her party still has a long way to go to achieve gender equality.

Auf wiedersehen, gender equality
Cerstin Gammelin

BERLIN — A week after CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer's shock announcement that she will be stepping down, Norbert Röttgen – the first candidate who has put himself forward to replace her – has laid out his plans for the party if he were elected.

Röttgen belongs to the ranks of men who during Merkel's time in power have found themselves pushed to the back benches after an embarrassing blunder – in his case, a humiliating local election defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia. He stuck it out though, which shows courage — and yet raises questions.

For 20 years now, it has been women – most prominently Angela Merkel – who have been at the helm of the CDU. But now that there's a leadership contest to choose her successor, no women are joining the race. Promising candidates such as the party's deputy leader Julia Klöckner and Susanne Eisenmann, Culture Minister for the state of Baden-Württemberg, have not put themselves forward. That's a shame, and it sends the wrong signal to women in the CDU. If they won't put themselves in the mix, they shouldn't be surprised when male colleagues set the tone of the debate, vaunting their own capabilities with perhaps a little too much self-confidence.

There are structural reasons why women are not putting themselves forward.

To avoid any misunderstandings: of course it doesn't say anywhere in the CDU's constitution that only women can be party leader. Of course, after two decades of female leadership, there can be a male successor. But there can equally be a female one. This isn't a question of whether a man or a woman takes on the leadership, but of how the CDU can preserve its reputation as a party that appeals to men and women, old and young, from all walks of life. That will not be possible if it doesn't attract female voters.

The CDU chairmanship remains vacant after AKK's resignation: Kay Nietfeld/DPA via ZUMA Press

There are structural reasons why women are not putting themselves forward, but the causes also lie in the party's internal relations. The late hours involved in politics put many women off, as does the fact that they are still often judged on physical appearance. And the CDU has still not achieved equality within the party. The fact that there has been one female Chancellor has distracted from the reality that the party still has a long way to go in terms of gender equality.

Merkel was groundbreaking in many ways: as a Protestant, an East German and a physicist with a PhD. But now that her Chancellorship is coming to an end and her anointed female successor has thrown in the towel, it is clear that the CDU is lacking in female leaders. It has no female state Minister Presidents, only one woman among its regional party leaders, and hardly any female mayors or municipal council leaders. Only one fifth of the party's representatives in parliament are women. This cannot be allowed to continue if the CDU is to be a party that genuinely represents society.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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