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Germany After Angela Merkel

todaySeptember 24, 2021 3

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American voters tend to like change. It’s rare for either major political party to hold the White House for more than two straight terms, and the president’s party often struggles in midterm elections.

Politics in Germany — which is voting on Sunday — is different. Many German voters prefer stability. Angela Merkel, 67, who has been chancellor since 2005, is retiring. And both of the leading candidates to succeed her are trying to persuade voters that he is the stable option who will continue many of her policies.

Still, Merkel’s departure sets up a choice for voters: whether Germany, the European Union’s most powerful country, continues to be run by a center-right leader or will have its second center-left leader since the early 1980s. The voters’ choice will shape Germany’s policies — and, by extension, Europe’s — on the social safety net, taxes, innovation and climate change.

Today, we offer a guide to the election. The Times will be covering the results as they come in on Sunday.

The two top candidates are Olaf Scholz, 63, from the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, and Armin Laschet, 60, the head of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union. Scholz’s party has led in the polls for weeks, but the race has tightened in its final days.

Both men are trying to focus the race on their leadership qualities, more than specific policies. Scholz has run a campaign ad that used the female form of the German word for chancellor to imply that he could lead the country like Merkel even though he is a man.

Laschet brought Merkel out onto the campaign trail this week, despite her desire to avoid it. The move was an acknowledgment of his trouble connecting with voters. This summer, a camera caught him laughing while visiting a stricken area after a deadly flood.

At one point the Green Party, whose chancellor candidate is Annalena Baerbock, 40, was at the top of the polls, before fading. A far-right, anti-immigrant party — Alternative for Germany, which in 2017 became the first far-right party in Germany to win seats in Parliament since World War II — is likely to finish fourth or fifth.

In Germany, voters do not choose the chancellor directly, voting for members of Parliament instead. According to Politico’s polling average, Scholz’s Social Democratic Party leads with about 25 percent of the vote, with Laschet’s conservatives at 22 percent, the Greens at 16 percent and the far-right party at 11 percent.

The election probably won’t change some major policy areas, including immigration and Germany’s close economic ties with China and Russia. But the outcome will shape some areas of domestic policy:

Taxes: Scholz wants higher taxes for the rich, proposing a three-point increase in the top tax rate, to 45 percent, and the reinstatement of a wealth tax. He has also called for a higher minimum wage, from the current policy of about $12 an hour to about $14.

Laschet opposes any tax increases, saying recently that it would be foolish to raise tax rates while the economy is recovering from the pandemic.

Social welfare: Pensions are an important issue in Germany, where the population skews old.

Scholz has vowed not to raise the retirement age any further. (It’s almost 66 and will go up to 67 by 2031, which is unpopular with Germans.) Laschet said during a recent debate that keeping the threshold at 67, rather than moving it higher, “will be at the expense of young people.”

Climate: Scholz’s party has vowed to address global warming by introducing a nationwide speed limit — of 130 kilometers an hour (or about 81 miles an hour) — and increasing the number of electric vehicles. Laschet has offered fewer climate specifics and instead emphasized the need to protect jobs. Both support the phasing out of coal by 2038, which climate experts have said is too late.

Though the Greens have made little headway in the race, both major parties have said they would govern with them in a coalition. That means that global warming will probably be a prominent issue for the next government.

Infrastructure: Scholz’s agenda has a lot in common with President Biden’s. Each wants to increase taxes on the rich to pay for what he describes as vital investments in his country’s future. Among other things, Scholz has called for the construction of about 100,000 units of subsidized housing to address a shortage of affordable homes.

Laschet prefers a market approach. He wants to use tax relief to encourage the building of 1.5 million new homes over the next four years.

One confusing aspect of the election: Laschet is Merkel’s heir apparent, yet Scholz is a senior member of her government, as both vice chancellor and finance minister. The current government is a coalition of both major parties. Many observers expect only one to be in the next governing coalition.

That situation underscores the role that stability plays in this election, and Germany’s mostly successful pandemic response is a major reason. If the election had been held before the pandemic, our colleague Christopher Schuetze, a reporter in Berlin, says, the two candidates probably would have tried harder to distinguish themselves from Merkel, whose popularity had been slipping. “Now the name of the game for these old guys is to show they are like her,” Christopher says.

  • Here’s a guide to the issues in Sunday’s elections, by The Times’s Melissa Eddy. And The Daily is about it, too.

  • Merkel has come to see the U.S. as an unreliable partner and has maintained close ties with China, The Wall Street Journal writes.

  • In The Atlantic, Yascha Mounk argues that under Merkel, “Germany failed to rise to its three biggest challenges”: Europe’s economic crisis, the rise of European authoritarianism and the Syrian refugee crisis.

Fenty: Rihanna talks about becoming a billionaire.

Modern Love: Remote work gave them a life together. Now what?

A Times classic: The math equation that tried to stump the internet.

Lives Lived: Barbara Campbell Cooke was Sam Cooke’s teenage sweetheart, but their marriage turned tragic. When she then married the singer Bobby Womack, who had been her husband’s protégé, the publicity was intense and the boos were loud. She died at 85.

The 74th Tony Awards are this Sunday, recognizing shows that opened from April 2019 to February 2020, before the pandemic shuttered Broadway. Here’s a preview.

Who’s hosting? The show is split into two parts. In the first, which will stream on Paramount Plus, Audra McDonald will present most of the night’s awards. Then, on CBS, Leslie Odom Jr. will host a two-hour concert special, which will also feature the top three awards: best play, best revival of a play and best musical.

Fewer nominees and categories: There are 18 eligible productions — down from 34 at the 2019 ceremony. Best revival of a musical was dropped because no shows in that category had opened by the February cutoff date. And only one person is nominated for leading actor in a musical — though he must earn 60 percent of the votes to win.

Record-breakers: Jeremy O. Harris’s “Slave Play” is the most-nominated play in Tonys history, with 12 nods. If it wins every award it’s nominated for, it would tie the record for the most Tony Awards received by a single production (held by the 2001 musical “The Producers”). — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer

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