Here are five reasons why:
quinta-feira, 14 de janeiro de 2016
5 reasons Germany’s influence is fading
5 reasons Germany’s influence is fading
Voters abandon the center, alliances turn regional — and Merkel stands alone.
By FLORIAN EDER 1/15/16, 5:30 AM CET Updated 1/15/16, 7:13 AM CET
Germany’s sway over Europe is fading, for all its economic might and the honors heaped on Angela Merkel, and the evidence of its declining influence can be seen in the changing fortunes of the European People’s Party (EPP).
Usually, Christian Democrat leaders grouped in the EPP gather in Brussels a few hours before EU summits to make decisions they will foist on other European governments. At the last summit, however, they didn’t pre-cook the summit’s conclusions because the center right — and Germany itself — is losing influence.
Here are five reasons why:
Voters vacate the Center
The latest EPP meeting, before the European Council meeting in December, wasn’t exactly a waste of time for reporters. They could hear from Nicolas Sarkozy’s advisers about his plans to return to power, listen to Spanish conservatives fret about Mariano Rajoy’s chances of surviving the general election or see the European Commission defend its refugee strategy.
But the extent to which the EPP was weakened by a series of punishing election outcomes across the region in 2015 was clear.
The Greeks chose a far-left alternative to Antonis Samaras and his New Democracy, Portugal punished Pedro Passos Coelho and his Popular Party allies for their austerity drive, after the Finnish elections EPP stalwart Alexander Stubb was demoted to finance minister from prime minister, and the Poles rejected a coalition made up of EPP members Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Party. A few days after the summit, Spanish voters would deprive Rajoy and his Popular Party of a majority.
That leaves Angela Merkel as the only remaining head of government of a major country within the EPP political family. Her ideological partners are disappearing, as is the backing for her policies.
New alliances arise
Assuming, of course, that there is still a desire for common European policy or the chancellor’s leadership, which is increasingly questioned. In December’s EPP meeting, Merkel and Viktor Orbán of Hungary represented opposing arguments in the refugee debate, with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny as the only other national leader with a hope of influencing the proceedings.
Although the bloc came up with joint declarations on refugees, Merkel and Orbán were still diametrically opposed in their views, with the Hungarian and his allies rejecting Merkel and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s insistence on finding common solutions.
In this crisis — as opposed to the economic challenges that have dominated the EU’s agenda in recent years — regional allegiances rather than party loyalties are proving decisive. The influx of refugees has consolidated the Visegrád Group, bringing together the national-conservatives of Poland, Slovakian leftist Robert Fico, Czech Social Democrat Bohuslav Sobotka and Orbán.
While Brussels has the legal means to respond when, for instance, a member country doesn’t comply with an EU directive on waste, it is powerless in the face of policies that undermine fundamental EU beliefs, as with Orbán’s vision of “illiberal democracy” which is being taken up by the Law and Justice party led by Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński.
The Commission, in response to Poland’s reforms of the constitutional court and the media, launched a “rule of law mechanism,” but this rebuke risks fitting perfectly with Warsaw’s current narrative of the EU as an alliance of left-wing weaklings under German leadership.
If conventional party political alliances across Europe have been diluted at Germany’s cost, the evolution of the European Commission and Parliament under the leadership of Juncker and Martin Schulz has also boosted the institutions’ independence from Berlin and Paris.
Juncker’s avowed aim of a “more political” Commission unsettles the German government, which wrote to the country’s MEPs before Christmas saying the Commission could not be both a political actor and an impartial guardian of the European Treaties.
Parliament’s priority under Schulz’s leadership is to seek support for the Commission’s program, even in the face of resistance from national capitals. Without tampering with the Treaties, the Commission has been transformed into a government controlled by a Parliament dominated by a “grand coalition” of Christian and Social Democrats.
This declaration of independence was the fruit of the political instincts and legal expertise of two Germans: Klaus Welle, secretary general of the European Parliament, who pushed the idea of Spitzenkandidaten (“top candidates”) in the last European elections; and Martin Selmayr, Juncker’s formidable chief of staff.
Eurocrats loyal to Brussels
These Germans do not take their orders from Berlin. Selmayr was openly cursed by Wolfgang Schäuble last year for what the German finance minister clearly saw as interfering in the Greek debt negotiations. Schäuble, who was under pressure to accept a third bailout for Greece which Berlin would have to bankroll, said Juncker’s chief of staff had overstepped his remit.
Selmayr’s instincts are far from infallible: In December he published data about a supposedly sharp drop in illegal migration to Europe, apparently to show Turkish-EU cooperation in a better light, but the numbers he used were highly selective and did not reflect reality.
However, the incident demonstrated beyond any doubt where the loyalities of the Germans working for the EU lie: not with Berlin, but Brussels.
Lonely at the top
These are tough times for a leader who excels at building consensus: Merkel emphasizes at every opportunity that the refugee crisis is a European problem that requires a European response, but she currently lacks powerful partners to help her strike workable compromises.
Unchallenged as Europe’s unofficial leader — unless you count Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s apparently serious ambitions regarding that title — Merkel suffers from a lack of serious high-level interlocutors: François Hollande is unpopular, Rajoy may have lost his job already and David Cameron has his own agenda when it comes to the EU and migrants.
The lack of leadership became glaringly obvious as the number of fruitless EU summits on the refugee crisis escalated in the second half of last year.
The rise of Islamic State, the terror attacks in Paris, the unsolvable war in Syria, the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne: everything is linked, nothing can be split into manageable issues, and with nobody to help her cope with an ocean of crisis, Merkel risks shouldering the blame alone.
Florian Eder, managing editor for expansion at POLITICO, writes a weekly column for Die Welt.