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Global Tax 50 2017: Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel was also in the Global Tax 50 2016, 2015 and 2013

Now entering her fourth term as Chancellor, Angela Merkel holds one of the most successful records of leadership in the world. Thanks to the strength of the German economy, Merkel has been able to run on a platform of lower taxes, full employment and a budget surplus.

Moreover, her continued influence in the European Union has allowed governments to join forces to push for tax measures such as the turnover tax, and keep the possibility of a financial transactions tax alive.

In Germany, meanwhile, this term is set to be her last, but few politicians have had such good fortune. Yet the electoral victory in September was bittersweet. After a dozen years at the centre of power, Merkel is staring down new challenges. Merkel's conservative bloc, the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), suffered their worst result since 1949. Even the grand coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) was no longer seen as a viable option.

As if this weren't bad enough, Germany has seen the far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) claim seats in the Bundestag for the first time. The Social Democrats decided to leave government and return to the opposition because the fear was that the AfD may be left as the dominant opposition party if the grand coalition remained in place.

The press began to talk up the possibilities of a 'Jamaica' coalition, so called because it would bring together the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) with Merkel's party. But the negotiations had problems from the start and soon hit a wall. The FDP campaigned to limit the flow of refugees, reduce the size of the state and slash taxes much more dramatically than the CDU.

Not only has the FDP tried to outmatch Merkel on tax reform, the party's leader Christian Lindner walked out of negotiations at the risk of triggering a new election. "I regret, with full respect for the FDP, that we could not come to a mutual agreement," Merkel told the press.

Tax reform was one of the key issues of contention, with the CDU preferring a much more gradual approach than the FDP when it comes to cutting rates and phasing out the solidarity tax. Lindner called for €30 billion ($35.4 billion) in tax cuts on the campaign trail. This was a part of the FDP agenda to rapidly shrink the size of the state.

Although Merkel still has the strongest claim on government, the German leader is in an awkward position with little clarity over the prospects of forming a new government. She can either cobble together a minority government with the Green Party or try to persuade the SPD to return to government. The alternative is a new round of elections.

As a consequence, the CDU has had to go back to the drawing board and consider a grand coalition with the SPD. This is despite the fact that the Social Democrats previously made it clear they would return to the opposition ranks. In contrast to talks with Lindner, Merkel may find it much easier to dilute the CDU's low tax commitments to strike a new deal with old friends.

Working with the SPD has served Merkel well in the past, but the situation today is quite different. It took the two parties the best part of 100 days to reach a coalition agreement in 2013. The stakes are higher and the game has only got more difficult. The centre ground is not what it once was, but, regardless, Merkel remains the strongest player.

The Global Tax 50 2017
View the full list and introduction
The top 10 • Ranked in order of influence
1. US Tax Reform Big 62. Dawn of the robots
3. The breakdown of global consensus4. The fifth estate
5. Margrethe Vestager6. Arun Jaitley
7. Sri Mulyani Indrawati8. Pascal Saint-Amans and Achim Pross
9. Richard Murphy10. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
The remaining 40 • In alphabetic order
Tomas BalcoPiet Battiau
Monica Bhatia Blockchain
Rasmus Corlin ChristensenSeamus Coffey
Jeremy CorbynRufino de la Rosa
Fabio De Masi The Estonian presidency of the Council of the European Union
Maria Teresa Fabregas Fernandez The fat tax
Maya ForstaterBabatunde Fowler
The GE/PwC outsourcing deal The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)Meg Hillier
Chris JordanWang Jun
James KaranjaBruno Le Maire
John Pombe Joseph MagufuliCecilia Malmström
The Maltese presidency of the EU CouncilPaige Marvel
Theresa MayAngela Merkel
Narendra ModiPierre Moscovici
The European Parliament Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion (PANA) The Paris Agreement
Grace Perez-NavarroAlexandra Readhead
Heather Self TaxCOOP
Tax Justice NetworkDonald Trump
United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters WU Global Tax Policy Center

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