Episode 24: German Politics in the Coronavirus Era

Eric Langenbacher

Senior Fellow; Director, Society, Culture & Politics Program

Dr. Eric Langenbacher is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Society, Culture & Politics Program at AICGS.

Dr. Langenbacher studied in Canada before completing his PhD in Georgetown University’s Government Department in 2002. His research interests include collective memory, political culture, and electoral politics in Germany and Europe. Recent publications include the edited volumes Twilight of the Merkel Era: Power and Politics in Germany after the 2017 Bundestag Election (2019), The Merkel Republic: The 2013 Bundestag Election and its Consequences (2015), Dynamics of Memory and Identity in Contemporary Europe (co-edited with Ruth Wittlinger and Bill Niven, 2013), Power and the Past: Collective Memory and International Relations (co-edited with Yossi Shain, 2010), and From the Bonn to the Berlin Republic: Germany at the Twentieth Anniversary of Unification (co-edited with Jeffrey J. Anderson, 2010). With David Conradt, he is also the author of The German Polity, 10th and 11th edition (2013, 2017).

Dr. Langenbacher remains affiliated with Georgetown University as Teaching Professor and Director of the Honors Program in the Department of Government. He has also taught at George Washington University, Washington College, The University of Navarre, and the Universidad Nacional de General San Martin in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has given talks across the world. He was selected Faculty Member of the Year by the School of Foreign Service in 2009 and was awarded a Fulbright grant in 1999-2000 and the Hopper Memorial Fellowship at Georgetown in 2000-2001. Since 2005, he has also been Managing Editor of German Politics and Society, which is housed in Georgetown’s BMW Center for German and European Studies. Dr. Langenbacher has also planned and run dozens of short programs for groups from abroad, as well as for the U.S. Departments of State and Defense on a variety of topics pertaining to American and comparative politics, business, culture, and public policy.



Jeffrey Rathke

Jeff Rathke

President of AGI

Jeffrey Rathke is the President of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC.

Prior to joining AICGS, Jeff was a senior fellow and deputy director of the Europe Program at CSIS, where his work focused on transatlantic relations and U.S. security and defense policy. Jeff joined CSIS in 2015 from the State Department, after a 24-year career as a Foreign Service Officer, dedicated primarily to U.S. relations with Europe. He was director of the State Department Press Office from 2014 to 2015, briefing the State Department press corps and managing the Department's engagement with U.S. print and electronic media. Jeff led the political section of the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur from 2011 to 2014. Prior to that, he was deputy chief of staff to the NATO Secretary General in Brussels. He also served in Berlin as minister-counselor for political affairs (2006–2009), his second tour of duty in Germany. His Washington assignments have included deputy director of the Office of European Security and Political Affairs and duty officer in the White House Situation Room and State Department Operations Center.

Mr. Rathke was a Weinberg Fellow at Princeton University (2003–2004), winning the Master’s in Public Policy Prize. He also served at U.S. Embassies in Dublin, Moscow, and Riga, which he helped open after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr. Rathke has been awarded national honors by Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as several State Department awards. He holds an M.P.P. degree from Princeton University and B.A. and B.S. degrees from Cornell University. He speaks German, Russian, and Latvian.



Germany and the United States are both grappling with what policies to enact—and for how long—to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and the choices made by political leaders will have political consequences. While the debates about the health and economic consequences of the corona shutdown are very similar in content, they are strikingly different in tone—a reflection of the differences in political culture and political competition. Also striking are the polls showing Germans’ perceptions of the lockdown measures and political leadership: 83 percent are satisfied with Merkel’s performance, 90 percent approve of the federal government’s response, and 87 percent support the shutdown measures.

Some of these figures may be fueled by the spread of the coronavirus in Germany—much less that in the United States. Whereas Germany has approximately 160,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 6,000 deaths, the U.S. has over 1 million cases and 58,000 deaths (according to Johns Hopkins University as of April 29, 2020). Germany’s response to the virus is discussed in greater detail in Episode 23 of The Zeitgeist in an interview with Jens Spahn, Federal Minister of Health.

On this episode of The Zeitgeist, Jeff Rathke is joined by Dr. Eric Langenbacher, Senior Fellow and Director of AGI’s Society, Culture & Politics Program. They discuss how the coronavirus is affecting Germany’s politics, including a surge in support for the CDU and decline for both the Greens and the AfD. They look at the looming leadership change in the CDU and consider some of the contenders for Merkel’s successor. They also discuss the role of federalism in the two countries’ responses to the coronavirus, and the fundamental differences between Germany’s style of coordinative federalism versus the U.S.’ competitive federalism.


Jeff Rathke, President, AGI


Dr. Eric Langenbacher, Senior Fellow and Director, Society, Culture & Politics Program

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The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.