domingo, 24 de julho de 2016
In troubled times, Germans embrace ‘Mommy’ Merkel
In troubled times, Germans embrace ‘Mommy’ Merkel
From the refugee crisis to terror attacks, the chancellor should be losing support. She’s never been more popular.
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG 7/25/16, 5:30 AM CET
BERLIN — Nothing erodes public confidence in the ruling class like political upheaval, violence and economic uncertainty. Yet in Germany these days, that combustible mix is fueling a quiet revival of Angela Merkel’s political fortunes.
The weekend violence in Germany, which began with the deadly rampage by a bloodthirsty teen in Munich and ended with a suicide bombing in a small Bavarian city, marked the latest in a series of events, from the U.K. referendum to an ISIL-inspired hatchet attack on a German commuter train, that have unnerved the Merkel Republic.
So far, instead of turning away from their leader, as one might expect, Germans have been flocking to her like moths to a flame. A string of recent polls (taken before the weekend attacks) showed that Merkel had largely recovered from the hit she took during the refugee crisis. The chancellor’s approval rating reached 59 percent in July, the highest since September 2015, in this month’s benchmark Deutschlandtrend poll, conducted by Infratest dimap for German public television.
With little more than a year to go until the next general election, Merkel, the leader Germans only half-mockingly like to refer to as Mutti (Mommy), is once again ascendant.
Merkel’s trademark sangfroid was on full display over the weekend
That may not be too surprising in a conservative country of voters who prize continuity and fear change. Still, given the thrashing Merkel took for opening Germany’s gates to more than one million migrants last year, her recent bounce is notable. The question is whether it’s sustainable.
Even if Merkel’s biggest advantage is the gnawing unease in her population over recent events, that ur-Teutonic emotion Germans call Angst, it’s also her Achilles heel. The explosion of violence in Germany over the past few days offered a stark reminder of how volatile the environment has become. The Munich attack on Friday was followed by the murder of a woman near Stuttgart by a machete-wielding Syrian refugee. A suspected suicide bombing outside a festival in the small city of Ansbach late Sunday that left the bomber dead and 12 injured, capped off what go down as the country’s bloodiest weekend in recent memory.
Though the attacks weren’t linked, they have further unsettled an already jittery public. That the Ansbach bomber was a Syrian refugee whose asylum application had been rejected will do little to convince Germans that refugees don’t pose a serious security risk. Merkel’s response in the coming days and weeks could determine whether Germans continue to trust her.
That said, terrorism is far from Merkel’s only problem.
“She still faces a number of ticking time bombs,”said Thorsten Benner, director of the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute, a think tank.
Those include the refugee crisis, Brexit and Italy’s banking woes , to name but a few. Germans’ biggest current fear is terrorism, followed by political extremism and domestic tensions over refugees, according to a study published this month by insurer R+V.
While Merkel has found short-term remedies for some voter concerns, most are far from resolved and could flare at any moment. As this month’s failed coup in Turkey illustrated, new threats to the region’s stability abound.
Merkel’s recent recovery came mainly the result of a calming of the refugee crisis. The closing of the so-called Balkan route coupled with the European Union’s deal with Turkey, which halted the flow of migrants across the Aegean, has eased if not erased fears about the number of refugees arriving.
The drop in refugee numbers has coincided with infighting in the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
Disputes within the leadership of the party have cost it support. Recent polls put it at about 11 percent, well off the 15 percent it was polling as recently as May. Merkel’s conservative alliance is back up around 35 percent after falling to the low 30s earlier in the year.
The AfD has already tried to capitalize on the weekend attacks, highlighting the attackers’ links to the Muslim world and migrant backgrounds.
However serious are the challenges Merkel faces, it’s difficult to fathom a scenario where Germans would give up what most regard as the voice of reason in troubled times.
Merkel’s trademark sangfroid was on full display amid the weekend chaos. During what on Friday at first appeared to be a terrorist siege in Munich, the chancellor remained out of sight. Amid the cacophony of false alarms, which took police several hours to dispel, Berlin was largely silent, saying only that the chancellor was monitoring events closely.
Merkel didn’t appear until the next day after a fuller picture of the Munich rampage had emerged. She spoke from the Berlin chancellery, but the cadence of her voice and her choice of words evoked the Lutheran church she grew up in as the daughter of a pastor: “To the families, the parents and children for whom today everything appears empty and senseless, I say both for myself and in the name of many, many people in Germany: We share your pain. We are thinking of you. We suffer with you…The state and its security services will continue to do everything they can to protect the safety and security of all.”
With that, she left the stage, taking no questions from the assembled reporters.
Even though a majority of Germans don’t believe the government can prevent terror — a poll out last week found that 77 percent of Germans anticipate further terrorist attacks — they appear to find solace in Merkel’s words.
They have less faith in her political rivals. Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel, the man expected to challenge Merkel for the chancellorship, is among the country’s least popular major politicians and many of his own supporters think he’s not suited to run the country. None of the other parties is big enough to mount a serious challenge for chancellor.
That means Merkel, to borrow one of her favorite phrases, is “without alternative.”
The only real question is what kind of coalition she will build. Though more than 40 percent of Germans continue to favor the current grand coalition between Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats, the foot soldiers in both parties want to avoid it at all costs.
The emergence of the AfD has complicated the math for the center-right forces around Merkel
Many in Berlin are betting Merkel will pursue a deal with the Greens. While the party has shed much of its radical positions, there’s still some question about whether it could ever govern with a party that is the epitome of the establishment. Some influential Greens have their own doubts and are pushing for a left-wing alliance between with the Social Democrats and the Left party, a motley collection of former communist elements.
The emergence of the AfD has complicated the math for the center-right forces around Merkel. Their preferred partner, the liberal Free Democrats, are unlikely to win enough of the vote to form a coalition.
Though the election is more than a year away, the unofficial beginning of the campaign season will be this fall after the summer break.
Given the chancellor’s dominance, the parties will be competing as much for her favor as for voters. Despite the challenges she faces, few think the Merkel era will end any time soon.
“She has the luxury of being able to choose who she governs with,” Benner said.