The Straits Times says

Europe needs steady hand at helm

Dr Angela Merkel's announcement to her party that she will seek a fourth term as Germany's Chancellor is welcome news. If she succeeds, her presence would lend a measure of predictability to Europe as it confronts multiple challenges, including a frayed union, a refugee crisis and a surge in far-right extremism. Although things could change over the coming months, Dr Merkel's ratings are now in healthy territory, despite a sharp slide earlier in the wake of her decision to let in nearly a million refugees. Although surprises can never be ruled out, particularly after the recent United States election, the hope is Germans will appreciate how she has made the nation Europe's strongest economy during her time in office.

If Dr Merkel goes on to win, she would match the post-war record of her mentor Helmut Kohl, who presided over Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Dr Merkel, on her part, will have to contend with other forms of barriers rising to separate nations. To her will also fall much of the responsibility of ensuring that Britain's exit from Europe is managed wisely, so quitting the group is discouraged while overall trade is allowed to grow.

The nativist instincts that stoked Mr Donald Trump's successful run for the American presidency need to be checked in Europe. Dr Merkel's criticism of Mr Trump's talk about pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and Europe's own comprehensive trade deal with the US is a reassuring sign that her own vision stays truly global.

Now that she has decided to contest, Dr Merkel will have to address the growing allure of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party. There may be room for her to adjust her position without going against the grain of being a Social Democrat who stands for inclusion, is against polarisation and populism, and remains pro-trade and pro-Europe.

No one is more aware than she that the task is not easy: There was little enthusiasm in her voice as she announced her decision to run. Dr Merkel is aware that she exposed a flank by her bold decision on the refugee question, which strained the nation's bureaucracy. Many Germans would demand that she give them a clear idea of what she intends to do with the guests and how she intends to integrate them.

Although she would be only 67 at the end of her fourth term - Mr Trump got elected at age 70 - it could well be her last. For this reason Dr Merkel needs to work to build up the next generation of leaders. Her dominance of her party since the turn of the century, and firm stewardship of her nation, gave Germany's centrists an extended lease. But it has also submerged all competition for leadership. Even as her party works to secure her re-election, it must start to look beyond her.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline 'Europe needs steady hand at helm'. Print Edition | Subscribe