What should Angela Merkel do next? It’s a question not just relevant to the Germans getting ready to elect their next chancellor but a question about European unity – and one that could impact thousands of people heading to Europe through Greece and the Mediterranean. Merkel can unite and divide: she’s called both Mutti (mother) and the Iron Chancellor. We asked people from the worlds of politics, media, culture and more about Frau Merkel’s next move.
Merkel must stay in the race. Ideologically I’m closer to Schulz’s Social Democrats but I prefer Merkel because she has a certain instinct that only women have. She does the right thing. If it wasn’t for her we Greeks would have been kicked out of the eurozone already.
Owner of Cassambalis, a Greek restaurant in Berlin in which Merkel is regularly spotted
She should communicate how much she cares. When everybody else goes to sleep at night I think she’s still awake thinking about how to make the country better. As a foreigner from the US it’s a privilege to have a leader like Merkel. If there are people who are not getting that message then she needs to go and communicate that.
Co-creator of ‘Deutschland 83’
Merkel should deliver a speech of hope and outline how her next government will unify Europe: create a proper banking union, neutralise debt and storm ahead to a proper democratic federation of the willing. There’s no chance that she will but, if she wants to leave behind the pettiness of the political parties, that’s my recommendation.
Former Greek finance minister
The first time I realised that I wanted to impersonate her was when I saw the footage of George Bush trying to hug her from behind, which made her freak out and go all rigid. We don’t know what she’s thinking; she might be thinking “Sod it”. I hope we don’t lose her – if anyone can stand up to Trump it’s Angela Merkel.
British comedian who regularly impersonates – or ‘inhabits’ – Merkel on her eponymous BBC TV show
She should ignore the polls, and present herself as the one person who represents stability, security and continuity in Europe at this time. It’s her strategy of “strategic patience”. The reason that she is fundamentally popular is that she’s so bloody-minded and sticks to a fairly constant message.
Associate fellow at Chatham House and former chief correspondent in Berlin for the ‘Financial Times’
Merkel should revitalise the spirit of September 2015 when she showed leadership, offered humanitarian solutions for refugees trapped in Hungary and tried to create a coalition of the willing to organise refugee receptions. Now she’s under pressure and her focus is return, return, return. For me the European project’s guiding principles are rights for refugees and minorities.
Director of European affairs at Pro Asyl, Germany’s leading pro-immigration advocacy group
If she’s able to couple her greatest quality – her calm – with showing her human side then she might be able to get rid of Martin Schulz [Merkel’s main opposition]. People are longing for a strong leader – and that could be Schulz. That said, her emotional restraint is an advantage in a world that’s going mad.
A presenter of Turkish-Syrian heritage on ZDF’s ‘Morgenmagazin’
Merkel seems to be the only head of government with the capacity and strategic vision to see how important a united Europe is. Hopefully she knows other European countries well enough to bring them together but that probably won’t be the close union that Brussels is dreaming of.
UK-based journalist for Zeit Online
Angela gets called the liberal West’s last defender following Trump’s win but I would love to take this pressure off her shoulders. Recent developments are too focused on the impact of a single person. It’s time for citizens to become more active in governance.
German entrepreneur and founder of ‘Flaneur’ magazine, which focuses on a different street every issue
Merkel will have to tell the Brits from the beginning of the Brexit negotiations that she is doing all she can to keep the continent and the UK together. She has to be very clear with Theresa May on what is and isn’t possible.
London correspondent for the ‘Berliner Zeitung’ daily newspaper
She should be more fierce about defending her decision to open the border in 2015. She had no choice. You don’t want a situation where policemen are shooting tear gas into a crowd of refugees; it was pragmatic to let people in.
Editor at ‘Zeit Campus’, Germany’s most-read student magazine
Merkel shouldn’t seek to avoid controversy with Trump. She should keep promoting liberal democracy and a strong Europe, which includes her controversial flagship policies, such as her stance on Germany’s refugee crisis.
CEO of Saxony-based watchmaker Nomos Glashütte
From an economic perspective we’ve never been in a better situation and Merkel should explain to ordinary people what she has done to achieve that. We have a saying in Germany: “If a donkey feels too happy he goes dancing on ice.” She needs to drive that message home.
Joint CEO of the Börse Berlin stock exchange
She should tell everyone to vote because otherwise we may see a similar result to the referendum in the UK and the election in the US. She could consider becoming chief of the German Football Organisation. I like her as a person; she’s a bit awkward and likes football – and German football can often be very dry. That might help her standing in the polls too.
Head of a Munich-based design practice and one of Germany’s leading young editorial designers
The big issue for the next 100 years or so will be migration and Merkel should be the person to propose a Marshall Plan-style scheme for the Middle East and Maghreb. Europe should put a lot of money and thought into rebuilding the Middle East, in a way that can encourage young people to see a future in their own countries. The German chancellor would be the perfect person to lead this: she reached out to people from that region and said, “We are not your enemies, we want to be your partners.”
Editorial board member for Spiegel Online
In Obama’s words, “She is on the right side of history.” She defends her beliefs and ideologies – but a politician is always a politician, which means you have to make deals or compromises; you cannot act as an individual.
Berlin-based artist who wrapped Berlin’s Konzerthaus in 14,000 refugees’ life jackets
She’s not giving a clear enough vision for her fourth term, whether it’s about inequalities or protecting Germany from external threats such as fake news from Russia or disentanglement from the EU in the wake of Brexit. She should keep things as they are – Germans love it, the country swims in money, people have a sense that things are good. She should have a small but clear message guaranteeing continuity.
Merkel’s authorised biographer
Merkel must decide whether to take action about what’s happening in Germany or what’s happening outside Germany – she cannot do both. People here are waiting impatiently to hear her speak up about the issues that are at stake, namely the rise of populism. Meanwhile, Europe needs a world leader who is willing to talk to Putin and the Chinese leadership.
Director of Berlin’s Volksbühne (People’s Theatre) and previously director of the Tate Modern in London
The best thing a politician can do in our current political situation is keep cool. The German character – more than, say, the French or the Italians – needs security and stability. We don’t like abrupt change. But Merkel has made two abrupt changes so far over nuclear power and refugees. She can learn from that experience.
Director-General of public radio broadcaster Deutschlandradio
The deal with Turkey to take back migrants was a dirty deal and Europe sacrificed its ideals to lock refugees on Turkish soil. President Erdogan bought Europe’s silence. Germany is such a big partner in terms of trade for Turkey and the things that happen there should have consequences – Merkel has the power to speak to Erdogan and be heard.
Former editor in chief of Turkey’s ‘Cumhuriyet’ newspaper, now living in exile in Germany
The first and most difficult task for anybody in Europe at the moment is to get to grips with the US administration and I don’t think it matters whether you’re a social democrat or a conservative. It’s the big question mark now. Merkel needs to talk to Trump, however much she may dislike him.
Political correspondent at the cooperative-owned ‘Die Tageszeitung’ newspaper
Merkel should remind Germans that nationalism and isolationism are simply not an option. German nationalism has proven to be disastrous in the past. I admire Merkel’s government’s initiative to help African countries develop, to avoid mass migration to Europe. That seems to be a better way to spend money than on arms and is certainly a more efficient way to keep Europe steady.
Artist and first photographer to win the Turner prize
Given the economic potential and manpower that Germany has for the Bundeswehr, Merkel could make a real difference for Europe and global security. The armed forces don’t do a lot outside Germany and have been woefully underfunded for 20 years. Merkel could take the initiative for the Bundeswehr and ensure that it has a leading role in more overseas missions.
Senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think-tank on international affairs
I grew up in an atmosphere of post-war trauma and Europe, for me, guarantees peace. I’m not one of Merkel’s main supporters but what she did in terms of refugees and towards Europe was the right thing to do. To shift more to the right to get voters would be a mistake, especially in Germany.
Martin RothFormer director of London’s V&A Museum, who left his post following the Brexit referendum
Germany should do more to support an active international policy for cultural institutions. The emphasis is on national policy and sending German artists abroad but there could be grants for institutions to bring in foreign artists, for subtitling films instead of dubbing them and for translating more books. German institutions could be made more rich and international by bringing people in from overseas with different perspectives.
Director of Essen art museum Museum Folkwang
Merkel is doing a tremendous job. She’s Mrs Clean and you can’t pin anything on her. But it’s so hard for our people – the people who toil and slog – to get access to benefits. We always come second to refugees. Merkel should make it more difficult for migrants to receive benefits and should only let people in who follow our rules and traditions.
Director of the Munich butchers’ guild
Under no circumstances should Merkel raise taxes. That would elicit a very negative response from the remaining high-tax payers. Safety is also at risk in our country because our laws aren’t enforced properly or are too lax. Break-ins never get resolved and rape is punished too lightly. The police should be strengthened both morally and in terms of staff numbers. The way they are treated is unacceptable.
CEO of Robert Herder Windmühlenmesser, one of Germany’s most illustrious knife-makers based in the ‘city of blades’: Solingen
Merkel should use the billions of euros in the federal budget surplus to renovate – as soon as possible – ramshackle schools and roads and to secure sustainable finances for small municipalities. During the refugee crisis, emergency services were paid for by the state government. I don’t think the federal government should be reducing its debt while we small communities see ours pile up.
Mayor of Amt Neuhaus municipality, including Sumte, the village of 102 people that was to host 750 refugees during the crisis
Merkel talks about integration but we have to wait and give people the time to integrate and find themselves. Opening the borders for people who need help was the right thing to do and she has to continue these kinds of humanitarian decisions.
Syrian comedian who fled to Germany