Earlier this week, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, announced that she would be running for a fourth term.
Her electoral run would be significant in any event – but in the aftermath of Brexit and the recent American election that will bring Donald Trump into office next year, it is even more so.
But what is it about Mrs Merkel that makes her unique and the importance of her victory that profound? And what does it say about Europe and the West in the 21st century?
As Mrs Merkel announces she is running again, there are reasons to be somewhat lacking in enthusiasm. This will be her fourth time running – and politics does need fresh blood from time to time. But on the other hand, Europe is going through a deeply troubling era, with the referendum on Britain leaving the European Union, and an unpredictable president-elect due to take office in the United States next year. For a number of factors that contributed to those two rather shocking events, Mrs Merkel’s leadership in Germany is crucial.
Herein lies the rub. The temptation politicians often feel in dealing with populism is to do one of two things – either to ignore it or to out-populist the populists. The first option underestimates populism and its appeal – and this is blatantly what happened in the UK and the US.
Germany and the rest of Europe ought not to make the same mistake. The second option, however, is immensely dangerous – because it means we allow, on a political level, the centre of mainstream politics to shift further and further to the right, which causes its own problems. In the United States, that is already happening, with the mainstreaming of incredible bigotry, as self-professed so-called alt-right backers of Donald Trump become deeply significant to the future of his presidency.
It will require immense leadership – which politicians haven’t shown much of in the recent past – but that is the unenviable task that lies ahead of Mrs Merkel, first and foremost.