Is An­gela Merkel los­ing her clout?

▶ Merkel’s un­der at­tack over refugees ▶ “My pa­tience is at an end,” says a one­time ally

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Conntents -

The event should have been a breeze for An­gela Merkel. The Ger­man chan­cel­lor was giv­ing a speech on the im­por­tance of fund­ing sci­ence at a new physics re­search cen­ter in the east­ern city of Halle—no prob­lem for a physi­cist-turned-politi­cian. But a few min­utes into her ad­dress, Merkel was con­fronted by a heck­ler de­mand­ing a change in Ger­many’s stance on refugees. Though the chan­cel­lor kept her cool, thank­ing the heck­ler and telling him, “I will stand by my re­spon­si­bil­ity,” the in­ci­dent high­lights the in­creas­ing hos­til­ity she faces over her open-door pol­icy on mi­grants.

Af­ter the ar­rival of 1.1 mil­lion refugees in Ger­many last year, with thou­sands more show­ing up ev­ery day, Merkel’s lead­er­ship is be­ing tested as never be­fore. Con­vinced that clos­ing bor­ders would bring down Europe’s sys­tem of pass­port-free travel, which Merkel has called the cen­ter­piece of the re­gion’s sin­gle mar­ket, she has sought to ca­jole neigh­bors into tak­ing in more refugees and to per­suade Turkey to keep mi­grants from cross­ing into the Euro­pean Union. Af­ter sim­mer­ing through­out the sum­mer and fall, the con­tro­versy boiled over in the first week of 2016. Shortly af­ter rev­el­ers ush­ered in the New Year with Cham­pagne and fire­works, scores of women across Ger­many re­ported sex­ual as­saults dur­ing the fes­tiv­i­ties. In Cologne, groups of men gath­ered at the foot of the city’s Gothic cathe­dral and sur­rounded women, grop­ing and pick­pock­et­ing them. Po­lice said more than 1,000 men, mostly from North Africa and the Middle East, many of them asy­lum seek­ers, were at the scene.

Mem­bers of Merkel’s coali­tion govern­ment soon stepped up calls for quo­tas on refugees, de­por­ta­tion of those who com­mit crimes, and hold­ing fa­cil­i­ties for mi­grants in bor­der zones. Ger­man Pres­i­dent Joachim Gauck said the coun­try should con­sider ways to limit the in­flux. And the sharpest crit­i­cism has come from the clos­est ally of Merkel’s Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union, Bavaria’s gov­ern­ing Chris­tian So­cial Union. To shore up sup­port, Merkel made an up­rece­dented visit to the CSU’S an­nual re­treat at the snowy Alpine re­sort of Wild­bad Kreuth. Af­ter leder­ho­sen-clad chil­dren pre­sented the chan­cel­lor with a bou­quet of flow­ers, 100 del­e­gates an­grily told her their com­mu­ni­ties were buck­ling un­der the wave of mi­grants and de­manded a cap on ar­rivals. When Merkel stood by her re­fusal to im­pose a limit, CSU Chair­man Horst See­hofer threat­ened to file a con­sti­tu­tional com­plaint charg­ing the fed­eral govern­ment with fail­ing to con­trol the bor­ders and warned that 2016 could end up top­ping last year’s record in­flux of mi­grants. “My pa­tience is at an

end,” he told re­porters. The dis­cord at home threat­ens Merkel’s in­flu­ence in the 28-mem­ber EU. As the leader of Europe’s big­gest econ­omy, Merkel has dom­i­nated the EU’S re­sponse to the euro debt cri­sis with her in­sis­tence on bud­get dis­ci­pline and labor­mar­ket re­forms. But given her grow­ing iso­la­tion on im­mi­gra­tion, she may find it harder to main­tain Euro­pean unity over sanc­tions on Rus­sia and to bol­ster sup­port for con­ces­sions to help keep Bri­tain in the EU. Vot­ers there are pre­par­ing for a ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue as soon as this sum­mer. Merkel has al­ready given up on forg­ing an agree­ment that would ob­li­gate all EU coun­tries to ac­cept refugees and will in­stead set­tle for vol­un­tary ac­tion, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with her strat­egy. The chan­cel­lor has said that she’ll re­assess the EU’S ap­proach to mi­grants af­ter a sum­mit on re­set­tle­ment in mid-fe­bru­ary, but the sen­ti­ment across Europe ap­pears to be shift­ing away from her. To the north, Den­mark and Swe­den are tight­en­ing con­trol of their bor­ders. To the east, for­merly com­mu­nist EU mem­ber states have re­fused to take in any more asy­lum seek­ers. And to the south, Aus­tria, once a stal­wart sup­porter of Merkel, an­nounced a cap on im­mi­gra­tion on Jan. 20.

The fall­out has left Merkel more vul­ner­a­ble than she’s ever been in her decade-long chan­cel­lor­ship, with open spec­u­la­tion in Ber­lin and be­yond over how long she can hold on to her job. Yet Merkel has no ob­vi­ous suc­ces­sor or chal­lenger in the CDU, which prides it­self on loy­alty and sta­bil­ity— and whose par­lia­men­tar­i­ans largely have Merkel’s stature to thank for their seats. Two years ago she won a third term with her party’s big­gest elec­tion vic­tory since Ger­man re­uni­fi­ca­tion. And the man most of­ten touted as a po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor, 73-year-old Fi­nance Min­is­ter Wolf­gang Schäu­ble, once the heir ap­par­ent to for­mer Chan­cel­lor Hel­mut Kohl, has been no­table in ris­ing to her de­fense.

Merkel holds an­other trump card: the econ­omy. With record-low un­em­ploy­ment and steady growth, Ger­mans have money in their pock­ets and are in­creas­ingly will­ing to spend it. The Fi­nance Min­istry an­nounced a 2015 bud­get sur­plus of €12.1 bil­lion ($13.1 bil­lion), more than dou­ble the pre­vi­ous es­ti­mate, and said a bal­anced bud­get this year is still pos­si­ble de­spite costs tied to asy­lum-seek­ers. Fur­ther­more, the un­rest over her refugee stance has been lim­ited to her own bloc. Merkel gov­erns in a coali­tion with the left-lean­ing So­cial Demo­cratic Party, whose mem­bers broadly sup­port her on im­mi­gra­tion, as does the op­po­si­tion. The CSU’S chal­lenge to Merkel “amounts to a breach of the coali­tion,” top So­cial Demo­crat law­maker Thomas Op­per­mann said on Jan. 26.

Three state elec­tions on March 13 could pro­vide an in­di­ca­tion of the peril Merkel faces. While her CDU stands a good chance of win­ning all three— and oust­ing ri­vals in two of them—a large turnout for the anti-im­mi­grant Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many party could make the wins look like losses. Merkel has shown no sign of back­ing down. In the Black For­est city of Freiburg on Jan. 13, she

“I will stand by my re­spon­si­bil­ity.” ——Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel

noted that coun­tries closer to Syria have found a way to ac­com­mo­date many more refugees than the Ger­mans have. “If a con­ti­nent like Europe, with 500 mil­lion peo­ple, is not ca­pa­ble of tak­ing in 1 mil­lion Syr­i­ans, per­haps tem­po­rar­ily,” she told a crowd of stu­dents and lo­cal grandees, “that is not in line with our val­ues.” - Pa­trick Don­ahue and Arne Delfs

The bot­tom line As Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Merkel gets more iso­lated at home on the refugee is­sue, her in­flu­ence in Europe wanes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.