domingo, 17 de janeiro de 2016

Brussels Briefing: Is Angela Merkel in trouble?

Brussels Briefing: Is Angela Merkel in trouble?

Peter Spiegel
| Jan 15 12:12 |

The knives have been out for Angela Merkel almost since the outset of the refugee crisis. But the rebellion from within the German chancellor’s own ranks appeared to have subsided ahead of the Christmas holidays. Gone were pointed asides by Wolfgang Schäuble, who in November warned of an “avalanche” of refugees because of “careless” government actions. Many read that as an unofficial signal that the powerful finance minister – who has long coveted the chancellery – was prepared to step in should Ms Merkel fall.

But in recent days, the German press has been filled with renewed accounts of plotting within the centre-right coalition – her own Christian Democratic Union and its more conservative Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. The scheming was linked to anger surrounding the New Year’s Eve attacks by men of “north African and Arab” appearance on scores of women in Cologne. Ms Merkel even cancelled her annual trip to Davos to handle the political troubles at home, though Berlin later denied the cancellation had anything to do with Cologne.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has reported that a confidence vote is likely to come before the end of the month, a measure backed by “several dozen deputies” within the CDU/CSU. Süddeutsche Zeitung notes that even the CDU general secretary, Peter Tauber, has got in on the act, demanding the deportation of 1,000 refugees denied asylum every day. Süddeutsche argues that the rather unchristian stance from Christian Democrats is just another reflection of pressures within the party, where voices are rising to shut the borders and set caps on the number of refugees accepted – a policy explicitly backed by Horst Seehofer, the seemingly mutinous head of the CSU.

Officials say that Ms Merkel’s refusal to back down on either border controls or refugee caps is a sign of her confidence that she will fight off any rebellion. Volker Kauder, the head of the CDU in the Bundestag, insists there is a “clear, clear majority” behind the chancellor’s policies.

But opposition politicians also note the calculations have changed since the previous time Ms Merkel faced a sizable rebellion from within her own party, during last year’s fight over a third Greek bailout. Back then, conservative CDU/CSU MPs may have been angry with Ms Merkel’s decision to avoid Grexit, but opinion polls showed the party remained above 40 per cent – about where they were during the 2013 federal election – meaning their seats were safe. The latest poll puts the CDU/CSU at just 35 per cent, with the anti-Muslim Alternative für Deutschland party at 11.5 per cent, one of its highest levels ever. For CDU/CSU members of the Bundestag, that means seats at risk, a great motivator for any politician.

There are few signs things will get easier for Ms Merkel anytime soon. Gerhard Schröder, her predecessor, weighed in on Thursday in an interview with Handelsblatt, arguing the chancellor has ignored the dangerous reality of open borders. As if that wasn’t enough, a Bavarian local official carried though with a threat to put 51 asylum seekers on a bus and drive them to Ms Merkel’s office in Berlin. The Bavarian CSU has always been the most restless on the refugee issue. In other words, a bus-full of refugees may not be the only thing coming north to Berlin.

What we’re reading

Is Europe in the middle of referendum mania? It’s the provocative question The Economist’s man in Brussels Tom Nuttall asks in his new Charlemagne column. The British are voting on whether to stay in the EU, the Dutch will vote on a trade deal with Ukraine in April, and the Danes and the Greeks recently voted down further integration into the EU’s justice structures and the terms of a third bailout, respectively. Mr Nuttall notes that Margaret Thatcher once dismissed referendums as “a device of dictators and demagogues,” and argues the sudden raft of plebiscites is a sign “the silly season” has arrived. “All this smells horribly undemocratic to some. But joining a club, or striking a deal with it, will always limit governments’ room for manoeuvre,” he argues.

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the night Belgian security forces broke up a terrorist ring in Verviers, a working-class Wallonian town in the far east of the county. At the time, the incident was largely overlooked, particularly as it came fast on the heels of the killings in the office of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. But US intelligence later determined the Belgians had broken up what appeared to be the first organised terrorist attack on European soil by Islamic State – a plot organised by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian national who would go on to become the ringleader for the November 13 attacks in Paris. Belgium’s leading legal rag La Derniere Heure reports on the security precautions being taken to ensure the anniversary is not marked by violence, including shutting police stations in the region. The paper also has a good Q&A on where the investigation into Verviers now stands.

Le Monde reports that French authorities have finally identified the third terrorist killed during the shootout in a Saint-Denis flat, where Abaaoud died just days after the November Paris attacks. Authorities believe he’s the man who detonated the suicide vest that likely killed those inside. And yes, he’s Belgian.

There are increasing signs that the Brexit campaign ahead of an in-out referendum in the UK is finally beginning to heat up. A day after the leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the EU was “disastrous” for Britain, Brexiteers are now seizing on remarks by European Commission Brexit czar Jonathan Faull that many of the reforms David Cameron is seeking do not require treaty change – something widely known in Brussels, but rarely discussed by allies of the UK prime minister.

For an insightful look at the other side of the argument, the Spectator takes us inside “Project Fear”, the plan Mr Cameron has to scare the British public into voting to stay in the EU – much as Scots were scared last year to vote to stay inside Great Britain. And last night George Osborne, the British finance minister, ended speculation that there might be two separate Brexit referendums, one on whether to leave and another on the terms of the divorce.

Could Kristalina Georgieva, the popular Bulgarian member of the European Commission, become the next secretary-general of the United Nations? The question has been Brussels gossip for months. It is widely assumed the next UN chief should come from Eastern Europe, and there is a push to a first female appointee. There are few other candidates with those qualifications and the kind of international respect Ms Georgieva has gained. The FT’s chief foreign affairs columnist Gideon Rachman takes a look at the candidates, and notes that many in the UN’s New York headquarters “seem to be rooting for the 62-year-old Georgieva, who has a reputation for being able and dynamic.”

Thursday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers was short and uneventful, though Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the eurogroup president, made a bit of news at the evening press conference after it ended. First, he said Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister, reconfirmed his desire to see the International Monetary Fund participate in the new €86bn bailout – an aspect that had become unclear in recent days but is essential for Germany to continue funding Athens. Mr Dijsselbloem also said the ministers talked about the rising politicisation around the selection of managers for Greece’s major banks, most of which are either state-owned or state controlled. That must end, he insisted.

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