From climate policy to business competitiveness, German business leaders are sharply divided on life after Merkel

June 15, 2021, 12:40 PM UTC

With only weeks left in Angela Merkel’s chancellorship, German corporates are split down the middle over what the end of her record-setting era means for their business.

Uncertainty among economic decision-makers is riding high over the prospects that the Greens will likely replace the labor-union–friendly Social Democrats as the next ruling partner to her conservatives. The result would be an untested coalition never before attempted at the federal level and run by an unproven new leader in Europe’s biggest economy.

According to a representative survey of 200 large and small corporates across Germany’s manufacturing, services, and retail sectors, Deutsche Bank discovered companies were united in their belief that September’s general election would shake up the staid political stage after 16 years of Merkel.

Yet they were evenly divided over the repercussions. While a plurality of 42% welcomed a long overdue restructuring of the economy, another 40% feared her successor might weaken the competitiveness of German exports and further expand the debt-financed social welfare state.

“All in all, the relatively high share of undecided respondents reflects the considerable uncertainty about any future policy course in such a new potential coalition setup,” the study’s authors concluded.

A similar split could be found when respondents were specifically asked about potential climate-related legislation. 

Among those most concerned about a crackdown on greenhouse gas emissions, many came from the country’s powerhouse manufacturing industry. Some 90% cited the threat of higher energy and electricity prices, already among the highest in the industrialized world. 

A further 71% anticipate they will be forced to make investments that prove not to be profitable in the near term. 

In the opposing camp, more optimistic companies either felt new climate legislation would lead to increasing demand for their products or would at least include compensation for the added burdens in the form of taxpayer subsidies.

In a sign that voters face a similar predicament come September, recent polls suggest neither of the main two candidates, Armin Laschet and Annalena Baerbock, are viewed positively on balance. The most popular nominee currently, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats, is also the one with the slimmest chance of inheriting her job. Under Germany’s electoral system, voters do not directly pick the Chancellor. 

Perceived as a steady hand on the geopolitical stage, Merkel first came to power in November 2005, when there were no smartphones and China’s economy was smaller than that of Germany. She navigated the country through the global financial crisis and the pandemic as well as politically outliving numerous contemporaries such as former U.S. President Barack Obama. 

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