“For all populists around Europe, Germany included, Merkel’s departure will be seen as a major victory,” said Josef Janning, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a London-based think tank. “But the populists will find that, once she’s gone, things are going to get a little more difficult.”
Populism pits ordinary people against a self-interested political and intellectual elite. Merkel, the unofficial figurehead of Europe’s wealthiest government, has the perfect blend of character traits to be cast as the adversary in this equation.
“Merkel has indeed been a useful, clear target,” said Josefin Graef, a postdoctoral fellow at the Dahrendorf Forum research initiative. “But ultimately she is a placeholder for a role that needs to be filled in populist politics: the ‘establishment’ that the AfD seeks to fight.”