How Merkel fares has broad im­pli­ca­tions

Times Colonist - - Comment - HARRY STER­LING har­ry_ster­ling@hot­ Harry Ster­ling, a for­mer diplo­mat, is an Ot­tawa-based com­men­ta­tor who writes reg­u­larly on Euro­pean is­sues.

For some, she might look like ev­ery­one’s idea of their favourite older aunt whose home was al­ways clean and de­void of clut­ter.

But for many Ger­mans, and others, An­gela Merkel has been a ma­jor fac­tor in en­sur­ing pre­sent-day Ger­many is viewed with re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion, much of it at­trib­uted to her calm and un­flap­pable lead­er­ship over the past 12 years as chan­cel­lor of Ger­many.

And, un­like such con­tro­ver­sial and di­vi­sive lead­ers as U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, she has man­aged to keep her fel­low Ger­mans proud of their na­tion’s progress and even­tual re­turn to democ­racy af­ter the Sec­ond World War.

On Sept. 24, Ger­man vot­ers will vote in na­tional elec­tions, of­fered the op­por­tu­nity of de­cid­ing whether Merkel will win enough votes to lead yet an­other coali­tion gov­ern­ment in Ber­lin, her fourth since as­sum­ing power in 2005.

In view of in­creas­ing po­lar­iza­tion within some Euro­pean so­ci­eties, the re­sults of the Ger­man elec­tion could have sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions not just for mem­ber na­tions of the Euro­pean Union, but also for other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Canada, and par­tic­u­larly the U.S. un­der Trump, whose er­ratic and di­vi­sive po­lices are in­creas­ingly un­der­min­ing na­tional unity.

Canada’s re­la­tions with Ger­many are sig­nif­i­cant. Ger­many is Canada’s sixth-largest ex­port mar­ket, and bi­lat­eral trade is ex­pected to in­crease sub­stan­tially un­der the terms of the Canada-Euro­pean Union Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade agree­ment.

Ger­mans com­prise the fourth­largest tourist group to visit Canada, and close to 2,000 Ger­mans at­tend schools and univer­si­ties in this coun­try, with the num­bers likely to in­crease.

What hap­pens in Ger­many — along with un­pre­dictable de­vel­op­ments in the EU — can have both favourable and un­favourable con­se­quences for other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Canada.

For her part, Merkel is again plac­ing her elec­toral em­pha­sis on the need for the Ger­man peo­ple to con­tinue their sup­port for suc­cess­ful so­cioe­co­nomic and in­ter­na­tional poli­cies that have made Ger­many a suc­cess story and are widely ac­knowl­edged and praised in­ter­na­tion­ally.

And, to a con­sid­er­able ex­tent, even Merkel’s Ger­man crit­ics have to ad­mit that her “steady-as-she-goes” prag­matic so­cial and eco­nomic pro­grams have made pre­sent-day Ger­many an un­ques­tioned suc­cess.

This has hap­pened at a time when many coun­tries in the EU — Poland, Greece and the United King­dom, for ex­am­ple — are en­coun­ter­ing grow­ing do­mes­tic di­vi­sions and the in­crease of rad­i­cal and ex­trem­ist groups within their so­ci­eties.

In the case of Ger­many, de­spite crit­i­cism of Merkel’s open-door pol­icy that has al­lowed the en­try of nearly one mil­lion asy­lum seek­ers — and the so­cial dis­rup­tion and ten­sion that fol­lowed — Merkel has held firm in ac­cept­ing the bur­den and heavy cost of such a mas­sive flow of peo­ple seek­ing to flee the vi­o­lence in the Mid­dle East and else­where.

Some would say that if any­one qual­i­fied to win the No­bel Peace Prize, that per­son would be Merkel.

Notwith­stand­ing Merkel’s un­ques­tioned hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance for Mid­dle East refugees and dis­placed per­sons, she is not un­aware of the need to deal firmly with some dan­ger­ous and in­tol­er­a­ble is­sues that arise on the in­ter­na­tional scene.

She has demon­strated this ca­pac­ity in her ap­proach to deal­ing with Rus­sian leader Vladimir Putin’s ac­tions fa­cil­i­tat­ing dis­mem­ber­ment of ar­eas of the Ukraine.

Merkel also made it clear fol­low­ing the elec­tion of Trump that Euro­pean coun­ties must face up to the new re­al­ity af­fect­ing Europe’s tra­di­tion­ally close and warm re­la­tion­ship with the U.S.

While Trump and key EU and NATO lead­ers still em­pha­size the pos­i­tive na­ture of their re­la­tion­ship, Merkel has un­equiv­o­cally stated that NATO coun­tries, as well as those in the EU, will hence­forth have to look to them­selves to pro­tect their in­ter­ests and se­cu­rity.

Iron­i­cally, as Ger­mans pre­pare to vote on Sept. 24, a can­di­date from Merkel’s CDU rul­ing party has promi­nently plas­tered elec­toral posters ev­ery­where quot­ing for­mer U.S. Barack pres­i­dent Obama: “If I could vote, I’d vote for Merkel.”

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