A resurgent Merkel may tip the balance
AT a moment when faith in politics, especially international politics, to champion liberal, uplifting, human-rights values is at a low ebb, it is reassuring that Angela Merkel seems close to securing a fourth term as Germany’s chancellor.
It is all too obvious that the European and world stages need a figure of her substance, experience, and moral confidence to defend the values that have enriched and sustained the West over the last number of decades. Our world is so fraught that Merkel’s weaknesses — and there are some, especially on climate change — seem almost secondary.
After all-night talks, Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union bloc and Martin Schulz’s centre-left Social Democrats cleared a significant hurdle and tomorrow week SPD delegates will vote on the preliminary agreement reached yesterday morning. At a later stage, all SPD members will vote on whether they should enter a grand coalition — a decision that will have consequences far beyond Germany’s borders, possibly for many years to come.
At a moment of a frightening return to dark, conservative nationalism perfectly characterised by Brexit or Catalonia’s secessionists; at a moment when the White House incumbent vents his racism by describing immigrants from Africa or Haiti as coming from “shithole countries”; at a moment when Britain’s prime minister Theresa May is so weak that she could not fire health secretary Jeremy Hunt during her cabinet reshuffle; at a moment when the EU and Poland are at daggers drawn over Polish proposals to curtail the independence of their courts and media; at a moment when Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Turkey’s Recep Erdog˘an seem more like nasty 1930s strongmen than modern leaders; at a moment when Austria has installed a hard-right 31-year-old as prime minister; and at a moment when one-in-three French voters voted for Marine Le Pen, Merkel’s style of humane, solid leadership never seemed more important — as is her commitment to European solidarity.
How else might the global rise of conservative nationalism so obvious in America, Russia, China, India and in so many other countries be turned? Even if this is the most frightening question of all — can it be turned? — it must be asked. All these countries seem to want to Make Themselves Great Again by installing an unaccountable, anti-liberal leader to defend special national values and tighten borders to exclude immigrants and “foreign” influence. This resurgence of the demons long thought buried is the menace of our times.
The path to this sorry point can also be the path that leads away from the very worst consequences of this closing down. Globalisation and the impact that process has had on work, wages, and citizens’ secure place in their societies, may have been a starting point, but the incapacity, or more realistically, the refusal of too many governments to insist that capitalism recognises obligations as well as exploiting opportunity, is the driving force behind this return to hostile nativism. It may expect too much of even Merkel to turn this tide, but our national politicians have a huge role to play too. The radicalism needed to hold the line seems in short supply.