Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Oct 4, 2021

Post-Merkel Politics in Europe


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I am Reza Moghadam, Morgan Stanley's Chief Economic Advisor. Along with my colleagues, we bring you a variety of market perspectives. Today, I'll be talking about the implications of the recent German elections and how investors should view the road ahead after a government is formed. It's Monday, October 4, at 2pm in London.

After 16 years as German Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel is stepping down. In the run up to the recent elections, there was considerable anxiety in European capitals. Angela Merkel, after all, has been the steady hand that has guided not only Germany's but also Europe's response through numerous crises.

These anxieties have not been entirely laid to rest by the results of last week's election. For the first time since 1950s, forming a government would require a coalition of at least three - rather than the traditional two - political parties, which raises concerns about cohesion of the new government.

However, there are reasons to be optimistic about broad continuity - that a centrist, pro-European and pro-business coalition would eventually emerge in Berlin.

There are perhaps two key issues of importance for investors as discussions get underway. First, who will succeed Mrs. Merkel? And second, what would be the exact composition of the coalition and, therefore, its policies?

The candidate most likely to succeed Mrs. Merkel is Olaf Scholz, whose Social Democratic Party narrowly topped the polls. Mr. Schulz is continuity incarnate. He has been Germany's Finance Minister and vice chancellor under Mrs. Merkel. He brings strong pro-European credentials, especially having played a role in ensuring Germany's support for the European Recovery Fund, which is Europe's main vehicle for providing support for the hardest hit countries during the pandemic. Mr. Schulz has also been a very strong proponent of EU banking and capital markets unions.

Is there an alternative to Mr. Schulz? Yes, the candidate who led the election campaign for Mrs. Merkel's center right Christian Democrats, Armin Laschet. However, given the poor election results for Christian Democrats and Mr. Laschet's much less favorable public standing, a German government led by Mr. Laschet is unlikely. But it is worth noting that Mr. Schulz and Mr. Laschet are both centrist politicians and not that far apart on key policies.

Now let me turn to the second important issue for markets: who are the likely coalition partners for Mr. Schulz or, for that matter, Mr. Laschet?

Here, the electoral mathematics are very clear. The Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats are highly likely to be in the next government.

The Greens have one key demand: €50B (or 1.5% of GDP) per year in new investment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Investment in Germany has been constrained by self-imposed austerity, and increasing investment of that magnitude is likely to underpin growth and innovation and set a benchmark for other European countries.

What about the Free Democrats? They are against tax increases and fiscally conservative, but pro green investment. Therefore, they would want to ensure that any fiscal plans are business friendly, and any deficit financing limited.

In summary, the contours of the post-Merkel German government are becoming clearer.

There will likely be continuity through Mr. Schulz, or perhaps Mr. Laschet. There Is likely to be a strong green investment agenda, and the presence of the Free Democrats ensures support for Mr. Schulz's brand of fiscal moderation and prudence. It is also very clear that while continuing to take a cautious line on fiscal policy, the next German chancellor and government are likely to put a high premium on European solidarity.

The process for forming a new government in Germany will likely take time as it requires drawing up a detailed policy agreement that respects the red lines of each political party. But, the new government should be in place by the end of this year, just in time for the German presidency of the G7 in 2022.

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After 16 years, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping down. While the full implications for Europe remain unclear, some contours of the post-Merkel government are now taking shape.

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