A resur­gent Merkel may tip the bal­ance

Irish Examiner - - Forum -

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.

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