terça-feira, 15 de março de 2016
The unravelling of Angela Merkel’s power / The German chancellor has lost support at home and control in Europe
March 14, 2016 5:04 pm
The unravelling of Angela Merkel’s power
The German chancellor has lost support at home and control in Europe
The fate of Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy on refugees has assumed global significance. Nationalists from Russia to the US are pointing at the German chancellor’s policies as a symbol of the failure of an out-of-touch liberal elite. In the most recent US presidential debate, Donald Trump denounced Ms Merkel, adding: “Germany is a disaster right now.” Even within the EU, many leaders, particularly in the east, echo that sentiment.
As a result, this weekend’s German regional elections were watched all over the world for signs of an anti-Merkel backlash. In the event, the results were ambiguous. The chancellor’s party, the Christian Democrats, suffered a series of setbacks amid a surge in support for Alternative für Deutschland, a populist anti-immigration party.
By the standards of the rest of Europe (or the US), German voters remained pretty steady — and the AfD are still a long way from power. Given that Germany has received more than 1m refugees in less than a year, it is remarkable that there has not been more of a backlash. (When I recently asked a senior British politician how long a Merkel-style “open door” for refugees would have lasted in the UK, he replied: “Less than 24 hours.”)
Even in Saxony-Anhalt, the region where the AfD did best, the anti-immigration party attracted only 24 per cent of the vote, which is far less than France’s National Front gets in its strongholds.
Nonetheless, the big picture is that Ms Merkel’s political position is becoming steadily weaker.
This time last year, the chancellor was at the peak of her power, but her authority is unravelling.
The past week has illustrated the process. It began with Ms Merkel negotiating a desperate and unstable deal between the EU and Turkey in an effort to stem the flow of refugees into Germany. It ended with her party losing ground in the elections.
The chancellor’s loss of authority in both Germany and Europe are feeding on each other. Ms Merkel’s failure to deliver a workable EU deal on refugees has eroded her support at home. And now, with German voters beginning to turn against her, the chancellor’s authority will be further sapped at European level.
Ms Merkel’s key partners are already beginning to unpick the EU-Turkey deal, with François Hollande, the French president, casting doubt on the idea that Turkey will swiftly gain visa-free access to Europe.
The verbal assaults on Ms Merkel, both at home and abroad, are likely to intensify ahead of an EU summit this week that is meant to finalise the Turkey deal.
Some of the criticism is unfair. Ms Merkel was not responsible for the Syrian civil war or the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And the policies advocated by her critics — based on tougher frontier controls and numerical limits to the numbers of refugees — present serious problems of their own.
As the barriers go up along the “Balkan route” to Germany, those problems are likely to become more evident as the treatment of refugees becomes more brutal, and desperate people get trapped in Greece, destabilising an already weakened country.
Her position was made worse by the fact that she seemed to have lost her ability to look several moves ahead
Nonetheless, Ms Merkel has also made serious mistakes. One way to understand how she has mishandled the refugee issue is to contrast it with her approach to the crisis in the eurozone. When it came to the euro, the chancellor’s approach was defined by a deep concern for public opinion in Germany, an understanding of the threats of moral hazard and unintended consequences, and an ability to find the middle ground between EU countries such as Finland and Greece. Those qualities, combined with Germany’s financial clout, allowed Ms Merkel to emerge as the indispensable leader of Europe.
Faced with the refugee crisis, however, Ms Merkel adopted a very different, and much less successful, approach. She gambled on the tolerance of the German public. And rather than seeking out the European middle ground, she took a position far to the left of almost all the other EU countries.
As a result, the chancellor found herself losing support at home and unable to rally a coalition in Europe. Her position was made worse by the fact that she seemed to have lost her ability to look several moves ahead. She failed to see how Germany’s “welcome culture” would spark a fresh surge of refugees.
It is a partial defence of Ms Merkel that, last summer, she was responding, under immense pressure, to a tragic and fast-moving situation. But we are now many months into the crisis and the chancellor still seems too willing to base her policy on comforting illusions rather than uncomfortable facts.
In particular, the EU-Turkey deal — in which Turkey agreed to stop the flow of refugees in return for major concessions from Europe — involves incredible leaps of faith.
Why should the EU trust a government led by a volatile authoritarian like President Recep Tayyip Erdogan? And why should the Turks believe that the EU will give them visa-free access and a smoother path to membership when so many EU countries are clearly opposed to these ideas?
If and when the deal collapses, Ms Merkel’s dwindling authority will suffer another serious blow. It cannot afford too many more.