Dismay at Angela Merkel’s handling of Covid-19 has prompted calls for a limit on how long German chancellors can stay in power.
Merkel has served four terms in office since 2005, working with five different UK prime ministers from Blair to Johnson and four US presidents from Bush to Biden.
But Germany’s chaotic handling of the pandemic in recent weeks has led to discontent in her own ranks – with conservative MP Carsten Linnemann accusing Merkel of slipping into a ‘comfort zone’ during her long tenure.
‘We need a new mechanism: we have to limit the chancellorship to two terms,’ he told Spiegel, as Merkel prepares to bow out following September’s election.
Angela Merkel, pictured, is nearing the end of her 16-year term as chancellor and is coming under growing pressure over Germany’s handling of Covid-19
Germany has had only four chancellors since 1974 and Merkel is not even the longest-serving of those, with Helmut Kohl holding the record for his 1982-98 term.
But Linnemann said a two-term limit like that imposed on US presidents would force parties such as Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) to renew themselves.
He suggested that top ministerial posts and senior party positions in the CDU should also be subject to term limits.
‘We were doing well, the economy was humming along. We got ourselves into a comfort zone and slept through the chance of renewal,’ Linnemann said.
‘Then in the pandemic we suddenly discover for example that the whole political procurement process doesn’t work, from vaccinations to testing. That has to be a wake-up call,’ he said.
Political scientist Wolfgang Merkel – no relation – also endorsed the idea of term limits in an interview with RND.
‘Mrs Merkel has been in power for 16 years now, her creative energies seem to be exhausted,’ he said.
‘It’s a structural flaw that our constitution allows people to govern for so long at a time,’ he said, pointing to Kohl’s long rule and Konrad Adenauer’s 1949-63 tenure.
Merkel’s long rule has seen her work with five different UK prime ministers and four US presidents (she is pictured here with Tony Blair in 2005)
Merkel is not even the longest-serving chancellor in post-war Germany, having worked with the record-holder Helmut Kohl (pictured with a younger Merkel in 1991)
Merkel has long been accused of lacking ideology and preferring to muddle through the series of crises which Germany and Europe have faced during her tenure.
She has also spent most of her 16-year term in a loveless coalition with the centre-left SPD rather than the CDU’s more natural pro-business partners, the FDP.
The CDU elected another moderate, Armin Laschet, as its new chairman in January, but it remains unclear who will lead the bloc into the September election.
Markus Soeder, the tough-talking leader of Bavaria, is also seen as a contender for Merkel’s job – although he may decide not to seek the chancellorship.
Germany’s prolonged lockdown has sent the party’s poll ratings into freefall, wiping out the bounce that the party enjoyed in the early months of the pandemic.
Polls this week have shown the CDU and its Bavarian allies on just 26 per cent of the vote between them, which would be their worst showing since World War II.
A successor to Merkel could potentially form an alliance with Germany’s Greens, who have surged in the polls since the last election in 2017.
But the CDU’s slump also raises the possibility of the party being dumped out of power altogether, possibly ushering in the country’s first Green chancellor.
Anger at Merkel comes as Germany enters a third wave of the pandemic, as shown on this infection graph, which a top health official says could be the worst yet
Merkel enjoyed a bounce in the polls after Germany escaped the first wave with relatively few deaths, but fatalities soared during the second wave in the winter, as shown here
Germany’s virus woes are set to continue for some time longer with a top official warning today that the ascending third wave could be the worst of the lot.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch institute, raised the prospect of infections rising to a horrifying 100,000 per day if the virus is not brought under contorl.
Merkel’s health minister Jens Spahn said the German health system could reach its limits in April as the British variant fuels a new wave of infections.
The government is also under pressure over the slow vaccine campaign, which has yet to reach even 10 per cent of Germany’s 83million population.
EU supply chaos and public reluctance to take the AstraZeneca shot have both been blamed for the slow progress compared to countries such as Britain.
With only a minority of the population immunised against Covid-19, lockdown restrictions have been extended into next month and could get even tougher.
Merkel sought to bring in an ultra-strict lockdown for five days over the Easter weekend, in which even grocery stores would largely have been closed.
But she had to scrap the plan this week amid massive public criticism, prompting her to plead for ‘forgiveness’ for what she said was ‘my mistake, and my mistake alone’.