Merkel’s allies face Katrina moment as floods rise ahead of election


A disastrous wave of floods in Germany has presented outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel with a domestic crisis less than two months before the election to choose her successor.

“That will have an impact on how people think about how the government responded,” said German Marshall Fund senior fellow Jack Janes. “The loss of life is, for German proportions … it’s going to be really, kind of, very traumatic.”

Nearly 200 people have died from the flooding, and roughly 1,000 more were injured or went missing, according to local reports — a crisis evoking comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, which swept through New Orleans in 2007.

Any political backlash against the government would be a problem for Merkel and her allies, as the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union alliance leads the political coalition in power now — and her heir-apparent, Armin Laschet, is premier of one of the German states most affected by last week’s flooding.

“Political scientists probably would say that bad weather should not have an impact on who you vote for, but that’s obviously not how things work in real life,” said American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Dalibor Rohac. “Remember, with Katrina in 2007. It did have an effect on the political mood in the country going forward. And so, in the weeks to come, we’ll see how opinion settles on that, [with regard to], was this a government failure or not? And I would not dare to make predictions on that.”


Laschet’s response to the crisis was marred after he was caught on camera laughing during a visit to one of the flooded towns in his state. He apologized for the “inappropriate” reaction.

Other members of the German government, such as embattled Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, have resisted calls to resign.

The crisis response could have far-reaching effects, not only for domestic German politics but also for American foreign policy. President Joe Biden’s administration has put a premium on geopolitical coordination with Germany, but Merkel’s team has been out of step with Washington regarding competition with China and threats from Russia.

“There’s something about German politics that [generates] a deep aversion to conflict of this sort and to hope that by following rules, abstract rules … We can sort of make power politics a thing of the past,” Rohac said. “And I think there is something to be said about just plain hypocrisy. There are strong economic interests that would like to see closer economic ties [with] Russia that benefit from their presence in China. Auto-manufacturers make a whole lot of money in China.”

Germany’s Green Party has been running in second place, with a program that Biden’s team deems more comfortably aligned with his administrative priorities.

“There is an election in Germany on Sept. 26 … so we are all expecting change in this relationship,” Dr. Karen Donfried, the Biden administration’s nominee to lead the State Department’s European affairs bureau, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday. “It may well be that her party, the center-right party, maintains the chancellery, but the coalition is likely to look different. And that will matter for German policy, particularly with regard to countries like China and Russia.”

U.S.-German relations have been strained in recent years — not only because of former President Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for public disputes with Merkel but also due to German policy choices.

Merkel insisted on partnering with Russia on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a deal delivering economic benefits to Germany at the expense of Ukraine and the interests of NATO allies such as Poland. Her government also raced to strike an investment deal between the European Union and China in the waning months of Trump’s presidency, despite the Biden team’s desire to delay those negotiations until the United States and EU could develop a common approach to China.

“If you had the greens in [the governing] coalition, I think we would see a greater sensitivity to the human rights violations that we see those countries make,” said Donfried, who has helmed the German Marshall Fund since 2014. “So, I think it’s an exciting moment for the relationship with Germany. While on the one hand, we can celebrate what has been, I think there will be opportunities for the U.S. government to forge and deepen cooperation on issues like China.”

Still, analysts cautioned against overstating the degree to which German foreign policy would change if the Greens come to power.

“If I had to bet money, I would bet against it,” Rohac said. “The reality is, very often, it involves much smaller changes, and there is obviously going to be one big source of continuity, which is the likelihood that CDU will be the senior partner in the next coalition government.”

Janes acknowledged Germany’s economic dependence on China could restrain the Greens if they come to power. However, he said that could change if the post-flood elections force Laschet to negotiate a power-sharing deal with Greens chief Annalena Baerbock.


“I think it’s plausible that the Greens and the CDU/CSU would form the government, and the Greens would push very hard on dealing with China,” Janes said. “I think the Greens have some additional clout in the federal government of Germany if they actually formed that coalition, and then they’d use that clout, not only for German policy but also for European policy.”

Source : Merkel’s allies face Katrina moment as floods rise ahead of election