In November 1998, Angela Merkel gave an interview to the photographer and writer Herlinde Koelbl. It was a moment of uncertainty in Merkel’s career, coming as it did just after Chancellor Helmut Kohl, on whose cabinet Merkel had served for seven years, lost that year’s general election. Kohl had failed to recognize that Germans had grown weary of his leadership and now, his party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), found itself in the opposition.
Merkel was lucky. The new CDU head Wolfgang Schäuble had chosen her as his secretary general. But she resolved at the time to not allow her career to end as Kohl’s had.
“At some point, I want to find the right moment to withdraw from politics,” she said in the interview with Koelbl. “That is much more difficult than I used to imagine. But I don’t want to be a half-dead wreck when I leave politics behind. Rather, I would like to pursue something else after a phase of boredom.”
Has Merkel missed the right moment? Has she stumbled into the Kohl trap?
Last Monday, Merkel was sitting in the headquarters of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to her CDU, looking as though she were a guest at her own funeral. Next to her was CSU head Horst Seehofer who, after months of castigating the chancellor for her refugee policy and threatening to withhold his support for her re-election campaign, had finally decided to back Merkel.
“I …… um … as head of the CSU … um … can inform you that … um … I … um, um … have declared my support … um … and that of the CSU … um … for German Chancellor Angela Merkel … um, um … for the coming election campaign and for her candidacy as chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany … um, um … with the support of the party leadership and the executive committee.”