Is this the be­gin­ning of the end of Merkel?

Once the most pow­er­ful leader in Europe, the Ger­man chan­cel­lor’s fu­ture is on a knife-edge

Gulf News - - The Views - By Matthew Qvortrup ■ Matthew Qvortrup is the au­thor of An­gela Merkel: Europe’s Most In­flu­en­tial Leader.

An­gela Merkel, the Ger­man Chan­cel­lor, used to be viewed like the Ger­man foot­ball team — in­vin­ci­ble, with ex­cep­tional tech­ni­cal skill and a steely de­ter­mi­na­tion that al­ways pre­vailed. Or, to use another metaphor, her style of gov­ern­ing was rem­i­nis­cent of the slo­gan of car man­u­fac­turer Audi, Vor­sprung Durch Tech­nik: “Ad­van­tage through tech­ni­cal prow­ess.”

But all things must come to an end. Last month, Audi’s CEO Ru­pert Stadler was ar­rested for his al­leged role in the Volk­swa­gen Group’s diesel cheat­ing scan­dal. And we all know what hap­pened to Joachim Low’s Ger­man team in the World Cup.

Twelve years ago, Merkel sum­moned a crest­fallen Jur­gen Klins­mann for a dress­ing down after Ger­many lost a match to Italy. Back then, “Mutti” (mother) was in full con­trol of her party, her coun­try and the Euro­pean Union. She could dic­tate that Bri­tain gave up part of the EU bud­get re­bate ne­go­ti­ated by for­mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher. She could also de­mand of Klins­mann that Ger­many did not play a 4-4-2 for­ma­tion in the 2006 World Cup.

Merkel’s pas­sion for foot­ball is well­known. When she and her fel­low G7 lead­ers were watch­ing the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal be­tween Chelsea and Bay­ern Mu­nich in 2012, she taught the then United States pres­i­dent, Barack Obama, to say “schei_e” when the Bavar­i­ans missed a penalty. Now, though, she has a big­ger fish to fry. After al­most 13 years in power, time is rapidly run­ning out for the Ger­man chan­cel­lor.

Nowhere was her di­min­ish­ing in­flu­ence more ev­i­dent than at last week’s EU lead­ers’ sum­mit. Where once Merkel com­manded the floor and had other lead­ers prac­ti­cally queu­ing up to kiss her hand, this time it was she who came with the beg­ging bowl, and all but im­plored her col­leagues to find a so­lu­tion to the im­mi­gra­tion prob­lem that could save her po­lit­i­cal skin. Gone was the con­fi­dent chan­cel­lor, usu­ally front and cen­tre in pho­to­graphs in her usual pose: eyes straight ahead, hands clasped in front of her. In­stead, she looked away.

Open defiance

The cause of Merkel’s woe is Horst See­hofer — In­te­rior Min­is­ter and leader of her Bavar­ian sis­ter party, the CSU (Chris­tian So­cial Union). See­hofer has openly de­fied the chan­cel­lor and threat­ened to close the Bavar­ian borders. He threat­ened to be­gin the repa­tri­a­tion of failed asy­lum-seek­ers if she did not find a so­lu­tion in Brus­sels.

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, then, Merkel was held to ran­som by Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s new Prime Min­is­ter, over his de­mands for a tougher im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy. Merkel gave in. That is telling. In 2011, she ef­fec­tively caused the down­fall of Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni when she re­fused to give more money to his spend­thrift ad­min­is­tra­tion. Yet, the lead­ers seem­ingly took the first steps to­wards a Euro­pean so­lu­tion on refugees.

His­tory will record Merkel’s role in avert­ing the worst eco­nomic cri­sis since 1929. When the world’s fi­nan­cial sys­tem faced melt­down in 2008, Merkel read the pub­lic mood, and lim­ited bankers’ bonuses.

How­ever, it is too sim­plis­tic to cite the refugee cri­sis in 2015 as the be­gin­ning of her down­fall. Ger­many was al­ways split over tak­ing in close to one mil­lion refugees. Yet, the is­sue has be­come totemic for Merkel. Be­fore 2015, she had never vis­ited a refugee cen­tre, but sud­denly she was speak­ing pas­sion­ately about the duty to “love thy neigh­bour”. Merkel might yet sur­vive as chan­cel­lor. She might try to en­gi­neer a trans­fer of power to her pre­ferred suc­ces­sor, An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, the CDU gen­eral sec­re­tary. But this could be dif­fi­cult. Once, Merkel controlled the party and politi­cians were seek­ing to be anointed by her. That was then. This is now. It might well be time to say, “Auf Wieder­se­hen, Mutti” (good­bye mum).

— The Tele­graph Group Lim­ited,

Lon­don 2018

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.