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New European leaders emerge

As Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy fall in popularity, a look at who is waiting in the wings.

setting her apart from her father in the minds of voters. She banned skinheads from attending the annual far-right May 1 Labor Day parade, for example.

Jean-Louis Borloo. The centrist candidate, a former ecology minister, broke ties with UMP recently to head the Radical Party, which counts other alumni from Sarkozy’s government among its supporters, most notably, Rama Yade, a former junior secretary. Backing from others in the establishment has been slow to come. Borloo has had an untraditional career in French politics, as a former football club president and member of the European Parliament.

Dominique de Villepin. The former prime minister and career diplomat who shined after his United Nations speech helped keep France out of the war in Iraq, created his own party to give the French an alternative to Sarkozy, but his intentions remain marginal.

Jean-Francois Cope. The Sarkozy loyalist and UMP head was instrumental in the charge to ban veils covering the full face in France. Just 47, he is waiting in the wings and has said publicly that he will run in 2017.

Nicolas Hulot. The television presenter and environmentalist, who was the first candidate in the race, is one of the most popular public figures in France, with an approval rating of 71 percent by some estimates. It remains to be seen if he can turn his strong popularity into political capital. Being a new candidate, “who seems not to belong to the political establishment,” works in his favor, Braud said.


A few months ago, any list of Germany’s rising political stars would have had Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg in first place. And probably second place and third place too.

But since the young, dashing and immensely popular conservative resigned as defense minister amid a doctoral thesis plagiarism scandal, the field has been thrown wide open.

His exit coincided with state election disasters for Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and their natural allies, the business-friendly Free Democrats, and triumphs for the environmentalist Greens, which have shaken up the political landscape.

Here are the German politicians the world can expect to hear more from if Merkel can’t recover before the 2013 election:

David McAllister. One reason Merkel’s position is still reasonably secure as head of her party despite her poor performance is that she has maneuvered key rivals out of the way. The most obvious young star on the conservative side is now David McAllister, the premier of the state of Lower Saxony. If the name sounds strange for a high-flying German politician, that’s because he’s half-Scottish. His father was a soldier with the British army in West Berlin.

McAllister, 40, is the quintessential new-European politician. He was born while the Berlin Wall still stood, but came of age as a reunified, increasingly confident Germany began to shake off the historical burden of the Nazi era. Like Guttenberg, McAllister is an outward-looking, modern conservative. A lawyer by training, he is also on the supervisory board of car giant Volkswagen. He is married with two daughters and speaks English with slight Scottish lilt.

Klaus Wowereit. The mayor of Berlin since 2001, Wowereit is 57 but looks about 40. He is energetic, pragmatic and experienced at managing fraught coalitions ― a much-needed skill in Germany’s diverse political system. He is also openly gay, a fact that in socially progressive Germany isn’t as much of an obstacle as it might be in other countries. His partner, Joern Kubicki, is a neurosurgeon.

Wowereit has become a brand by personifying Germany’s modern, hip capital. He has tirelessly promoted the city as a cultural center and become a familiar sight alongside famous faces at Berlin’s many arts festivals. But he has also been a tough manager, for example laying off city workers and cutting their salaries to stem the city’s hemorrhaging finances — an act that required deft management of his Green party’s coalition with the socialist Left party.

He has boundless self-confidence — some say cockiness — and formidable political skills. His big challenge right now is winning re-election in Berlin in September. If he loses the city, his hopes for national politics will be dashed.

Renate Kuenast. The woman standing in Wowereit’s way happens to be the environmentalist Greens’ most seasoned operator, Renate Kuenast, who will run against him for the keys to city hall in September.

The Greens are the great question mark in German politics. Despite sitting on record-high support — 28 percent according to some polls — the party doesn’t have an obvious candidate for the top job of chancellor in 2013.

They’ve never actually run a candidate for chancellor before, happy instead to play the role of protest party and occasional kingmaker. In the latter role, they governed as the junior partner to the SPD under Gerhard Schroeder from 1998 to 2005.

But now that they are polling higher than the SPD, they need someone of Merkel’s or Schroeder’s stature who could actually run the country.

Kuenast, a pragmatist with genuine governing experience from her time as Agriculture and Consumer Minister in Schroeder’s government, has helped the party shrug off its “tree hugger” image and evolve into a mainstream party.

She famously declared two years ago: “We're the party of the new middle class.”

The job of Berlin mayor could serve as a springboard for the 55-year-old, who lives with her partner, lawyer Ruediger Portius.

The Greens are enjoying a bump from the backlash against Merkel’s see-sawing nuclear policies in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. Whether they can maintain the record support is questionable, but there seems little doubt the Greens will play a considerably bigger role in Germany’s future.