Merkel a strong voice in a fragmented world
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.