Amy Devlin is attending NUI Galway, where she is studying English and German.
As an Irish student who has lived in Germany and studies the language, I have a surprisingly limited awareness of the country’s politics. Recently German affairs have found their way into the Irish news, because of trouble forming their coalition government. A face which continues to appear at the mast of all these stories is that of Angela Merkel, a woman who I daresay all Europeans know, if not love. Yet Merkel’s legacy as German Chancellor, the equivalent of Prime Minister, is undoubtedly impressive; she has been in the position since 2005, winning four elections. Germany’s most recent federal elections took place on the 24th of September 2017, seeing the Christian Democratic Union, under the leadership of Merkel, win 33% of the votes, and obtaining the largest number of seats in the Bundestag again this year. The Social Democratic Party of Germany, led by Martin Schulz followed in second place, receiving 25% of votes. Following the election of parties to parliament, the decision of who would be German Chancellor remained. Despite a decrease in favour in public opinion polls, Merkel was re-elected, and her debate with candidate Martin Schulz, which took place on the 3rd of September, is indicative as to why.
The televised debate took place on the show ‘Das Tv-Duell 2017’ and revealed the candidates’ stances on key issues including the Refugee Crisis, migration and international relations. Claus Strunz and Sandra Maischberger served as moderators, and they wasted no time in setting the debate in motion. The first questions posed to the candidates were ones directed at their characters and public personas; these questions hint at how the debate will unfold. The candidates’ responses are contrasting and predict the course of the debate; Schulz was unable to grasp at his argument with convincing certainty, while Merkel gave assertive, composed answers, even managing a smile.
A major area where the candidates’ opinions differed was the topic of migration, and particularly the issue of refugees in Germany. Schulz criticised his opponent for her decisions in 2015, of course referring to Germany’s open borders policy, and quoted an earlier interview in which Merkel claimed she would repeat those actions. Schulz cleverly appealed to the working class majority of the population, where the most angst and uncertainty regarding the influx of refugees lies, leaving Merkel able to simply thank volunteers and point out the dramatic nature of the situation. This was one of the few instances in which Schulz gained the upper hand. However, Schulz was unable to hold onto that early advantage; the topic of integration provided Merkel with a chance to exercise her level-headed, reasonable perspective. She identified with the portion of the population who were ‘sceptical’ of Islam, and addressed the key question of whether Islam is a part of Germany, acknowledging the presence of the religion is indeed growing in the country. She finished her piece with the reassurance that Islam will be monitored, and mosques will be closed if unacceptable activity occurs. Jumping impulsively on the chance to disagree with Merkel, Schulz attempted to create an argument in favour of Islam, but failed to make a comprehensible sentence.
The tone of the debate was one of respect and appreciation; it is certain that the debate between German Chancellor candidates was much more amiable than any Trump-Hilton debate. The body language of the candidates was not defensive or offensive, simply professional and attentive, with straight shoulders and open arms and chest regions- a sign of the mutual respect and willingness to listen.
Despite both candidates managing valid, intelligent arguments, Merkel’s experience and capability clearly shone through. Her greater awareness of the international community and willingness to work with other world leaders backed up her arguments, particularly on the issue of North Korea and Turkey; she was an advocate for cooperation and teamwork, while contrastingly Schulz suggested cutting the American president out of North Korea negotiations and severing ties with Turkey. It is no surprise that Angela Merkel is serving her fourth term as German Chancellor, given her experience, confidence and collected nature which dominated this debate.