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“The Merkel years have been good. It’s going to be weird to see her go, although I don’t feel her politics have impacted my daily life. For me, it was like she still had been there. I can’t even remember the name of its predecessor! ” says Simon Holzhauer, 25, an electrical engineering student from Karlsruhe, without political involvement.
After sixteen years of reign, the German Chancellor still enjoys great popularity among young people. The vast majority consider her as a woman endowed with a natural authority, authentic, humble, full of empathy, a good crisis manager, above all suspicion and unifier. When they talk about her, everyone is respectful. Never a wrong word against “Mutti” (“Mom”).
“With her, we had the impression of living in safety and in freedom”, summarizes Lisa Bubert, 24, member of the board of directors of the youth organization of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). “She never lets herself be influenced by her emotions. She always keeps a cool head,” she adds. “I never voted for her, but I have always appreciated her way of governing, concedes Jakob Heidenreich, 23, activist at IG Metall, the large trade union organization in the metal industry. With her, we were reassured. not feared for Germany’s reputation. She was the complete opposite of Trump. ”
And for good reason: “She left a real mark on this generation, analyzes Klaus Hurrelmann, sociologist at the Hertie School in Berlin. So much so that young people are inspired by the Merkel style, conciliator, serene, reassuring. We can even talk about of symbiosis. ” The Chancellor gives them confidence: “Germany is strong. We are going to get there”, she said in 2015, during the “refugee crisis”. This sentence is anchored in the memory of all Germans, including young people.
The “Merkel generation” is that of the second “German economic miracle”. Under his reign, the country has never been so rich. “These young people have not known the economic crisis, mass unemployment or the attacks of September 11. With the labor shortage, they are called upon by companies. We need them. They have confidence. “, continues Klaus Hurrelmann. At least they are aware of their privileges. “I am very happy to be able to live in a country like Germany, where one can study for free and live in safety. It is precisely for this reason that we must show the example”, advances Ingy El Ismy, feminist age 24 who fights against discrimination.
If young people appreciate the Merkel style, they are on the other hand much less enthusiastic about her political record. “The Chancellor has always paid attention to stability. The last few years have shown that nothing was stable,” said Ingy El Ismy. “International security has deteriorated. Inequalities have exploded. Rents are unaffordable. The labor market has become so flexible that it no longer protects the future,” laments environmentalist June Tomiak, 24 years old. young woman elected to the Berlin regional parliament.
“Germany has more and more billionaires and more and more poor people,” said trade unionist Enrico Wiesner, 26, whose parents are former citizens of the GDR … like Angela Merkel, who made no effort to reduce inequalities in his former homeland. “If you work in the East, you always have worse working conditions than your colleagues in the West. In Berlin, you just have to be on the wrong side of the street to work three more hours a week and earn less retirement. How is that possible? We have been reunited for over thirty years! ” he gets carried away.
No pension reform has been initiated to resolve the problem of demographic decline. Young people fear paying the consequences. “Our generation is threatened with poverty,” worries Ingy El Ismy. Who will pay the pensions in forty years? “Merkel has pursued a policy for retirees, but not for young people,” criticizes sociologist Klaus Hurrelmann. The social contract between generations “has not existed for a long time,” confirms Marcel Fratzscher, director of the Berlin Institute for Economic Research (DIW), who deplores the lack of debate in the electoral campaign.
“Angela Merkel has left too many problems behind her, for which she is directly responsible”, judge Pauline Brünger, 19 years old. The spokesperson for the “school strike for the climate” movement (Fridays for Future) describes her as an “excellent crisis manager”, but “without vision”. “With her, the problems worsened. During the health crisis, we saw how Germany lagged behind in digital technology. The health centers exchanged their data by fax!” she notes, also referring to the catastrophic state of transport infrastructure and telephone networks.
On its climate report, the main concern of young Germans, the situation is considered hopeless. “Not only did it not do anything, but it also slowed down the energy transition”, plague Pauline Brünger. “I am really very angry with her, opines Sophia Heinlein, 24, member of the youth council of the Generationen Stiftung (Generation Foundation), which defines itself as the ‘lobby of the new generations’. She is a scientist and a former Minister of the Environment: She was expected to use her power and knowledge to do something for the climate. ”
In 1997, Angela Merkel wrote a book, Der Preis des Überlebens (“The Price of Survival”), on the climate emergency. Elected head of government in 2005, she presented herself as the “climate chancellor”, having her photograph taken in Greenland in front of a glacier threatened by global warming. “Industrial countries must lead by example,” she said at the time, borrowing the rhetoric of young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
However, it will lead an energy policy that is difficult to read. It will extend the life of nuclear power plants, initially slowing the development of renewable energies. In 2011, after the Fukushima disaster, it will do the opposite, announcing the closure of German power stations and developing wind energy. At the same time, it will defend the fiscal privileges of fossil fuels by betting on coal as a transitional energy (before arriving at a carbon-free world). She will advocate for car manufacturers in Brussels against the new polluting emission standards. And it will leave unlimited speed on the highways. “She had the power to act, she did not budge”, regrets Constantin Kuhn, 20, a student of natural sciences in Freiburg and member of the youth council of the Bund, the German Federation for the environment and the protection of nature.
Civil society did not wait for the Chancellor to evolve. “Young people have opened up to the world. They are more politicized, and engaged in struggles against inequalities”, according to Klaus Hurrelmann. Almost 2 in 3 young people approve of welcoming refugees and welcome Merkel’s decision not to close the borders in 2015, according to the large benchmark survey on the state of mind of German youth (Shell Youth Study 2019 ). “It is our duty to share our wealth, believes trade unionist Jakob Heidenreich. We are not afraid that the refugees will take work from us. On the contrary, they bring wealth like the others.”
Under Merkel, German society opened up to diversity. “The victims or people discriminated against have come out of their silence. They have become visible. I have the feeling that today there is greater solidarity with marginalized people”, welcomes Ingy El Ismy, herself German. immigration background.
The response to these changes has resulted in an increase in far-right violence, a source of concern among young people. Part of this Merkel generation radicalized by voting for the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), the main opposition force in the Federal Assembly since 2017. “About 10% of those under 25 are extremists, and 10 % of nationalists. The AfD has become their spokesperson, “says Klaus Hurrelmann.
The neo-Nazi attacks against the synagogue in Halle in 2019 (2 dead) and against people with an immigrant background in a working-class district of Hanau in 2020 (9 dead) highlighted this rejection of the diversity to which the majority aspires. German youth. “Anti-Semitism continues to grow,” regrets Anna Staroselski, 25, president of the Union of Jewish Students of Germany (JSUD). She does not see sufficient reactions from the state against the far right, which nevertheless constitutes “the greatest current threat to the rule of law and German democracy”, according to Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. “The arrival of the AfD has freed the floor. Actions follow, notes Anna Staroselski. Many children do not dare to say that they are Jewish at school. Every time we organize an event, we do not let’s not make the address public for security reasons. That’s the reality in Germany. ”
Despite her wait-and-see attitude, Merkel has listened to society, always keeping an eye on popularity polls. “We must recognize one thing, it is to have answered the calls of the Germans. Its merit, it is to have reacted, admits Ingy El Ismy, who imagines very badly Germany without it. I fear that the The situation is only getting worse, as racism, sexism and inequality increase. ” “I’m afraid the current candidates will do nothing once in power. Even the Greens lack courage,” laments Sophia Heinlein. For her, young people must return to the streets to put pressure on the next government: “We are much more than the ‘Merkel generation’. We are the generation of action.”