Merkel a strong voice in a frag­mented world

Irish Examiner - - Forum -

DE­SPITE the sober­ing lessons in­flicted on crys­tal ball gaz­ers by Brexit, the el­e­va­tion of President Trump and hu­mil­i­a­tion of Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May in last June’s un­nec­es­sary snap elec­tion, there is a near-uni­ver­sal ex­pec­ta­tion that Ger­many will re-elect Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel for a fourth term when it goes to the polls to­mor­row week.

That would be a re­mark­able achieve­ment, even for the politi­cian reg­u­larly de­scribed as the most pow­er­ful woman in the world. A fourth term as chan­cel­lor was sur­passed only by Kon­rad Ade­nauer in the post­war pe­riod and by Hel­mut Kohl in the af­ter­math of re­uni­fi­ca­tion. Merkel is steer­ing Ger­many — and nudg­ing Europe — through choppy seas. The sta­bil­ity, the calm author­ity she epit­o­mises helps ex­plain her en­dur­ing suc­cess. But other char­ac­ter­is­tics — bor­row­ing ri­vals’ pol­icy ideas, a cau­tious hes­i­tancy that makes her seem more gray than charis­matic, the ac­cep­tance of more than a mil­lion refugees in Ger­many, and ac­cu­sa­tions of un­der­in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture — may yet cast a shadow over the thing all politi­cians fret about, her legacy.

These is­sues are also hol­low­ing out the cen­tre of Ger­many’s pol­i­tics and sharp­en­ing po­lar­i­sa­tion in a way the coun­try has not seen for maybe a gen­er­a­tion. Just as in the Dáil, frag­men­ta­tion is the new re­al­ity in the Bun­destag. For the first time since the Sec­ond World War, six par­ties are ex­pected to be rep­re­sented in the par­lia­ment, in­clud­ing a group of right-wing na­tion­al­ists. If the polls are ac­cu­rate, Mrs Merkel may win with a lower share of the vote than any of her pre­de­ces­sors. The anti-cap­i­tal­ist Left and the far-Right AfD are the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries, both jockey for third place.

Martin Schulz’s So­cial Demo­cratic Party, a ju­nior part­ner in Mrs Merkel’s coali­tion since 2013, will be, if the pre­dic­tions are ac­cu­rate, in sec­ond place. Like all chal­lengers press­ing in the home straight, Mr Schulz in­sists ev­ery­thing is still in play. How­ever, the lat­est Deutsch­landtrend poll pub­lished on Thurs­day showed Mrs Merkel’s union of CDU/CSU on a steady 37% and Schulz’s SPD down to 20%.

Mrs Merkel’s re-elec­tion would add to the mo­men­tum gath­er­ing around deep­en­ing EU in­te­gra­tion out­lined by the president of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Jean-Claude Juncker in Stras­bourg ear­lier this week. The EU’s re­cov­ery, un­evenly spread though it may be, will help Mrs Merkel pur­sue a greater in­te­gra­tion of the eu­ro­zone. Dur­ing that Stras­bourg speech, Mr Junker stressed the EU’s role as a world moral leader, a po­si­tion va­cated by President Trump’s Amer­ica. Last year alone, EU states took in three times as many refugees as Amer­ica. Mrs Merkel is not solely re­spon­si­ble for this but her in­flu­ence, es­pe­cially on mi­gra­tion, can­not be de­nied.

And why does any of this mat­ter on a small, windy and wet is­land on the week­end that Mayo fol­low King Henry’s ad­vice from an ear­lier spat be­tween the English and the French, and go “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...”

The world, just like the Dáil and the Bun­destag, is be­com­ing more and more frag­mented. In a post-Brexit, Trumpian, post-truth world, a bloc where Mrs Merkel is one of the most in­flu­en­tial fig­ures would be a good place to pitch our tent.

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