Angela Merkel’s soft offensive
Fourth and final term would focus on securing her place in history — by ‘fixing’ Europe.
9/1/16, 5:24 AM CET
BERLIN — Berlin’s government quarter was hot with speculation this week about the “K-Frage,” a long-running political parlor game over whether Angela Merkel will pursue another run for Germany’s chancellery.
Though few seriously doubt Merkel wants a chance at an era-crowning fourth term as Kanzlerin, behind-the-scenes squabbling in her conservative alliance over the timing of an announcement has fed theories of a Plan B.
Even as her allies and adversaries parse her public statements and body language for clues of her plans, Merkel has quietly begun laying the groundwork for another four-year term, her political allies say. A familiar question is already dominating those deliberations: How to fix Europe?
If Merkel has spent most of her time in office putting out fires across the Continent, from the financial crisis and Greece to the refugee influx, her next and likely final term would focus on a subject close to any longtime leader’s heart — legacy. Securing that place in history will depend in large part on whether Merkel succeeds in putting Europe on steadier ground.
“Time is not on the side of integration but of regression” — Josef Janning, ECFR
A combination of economic weakness and the widespread impression that Brussels and/or Berlin are to blame for national ills has eroded confidence in the bloc, fueling populist movements from Spain to Sweden. If the EU continues to unravel in the coming years, Merkel, the Continent’s preeminent political figure, will be remembered as the leader who lost Europe.
While Berlin believes Europe has made strides in improving its regulatory framework and preparing for shocks like the debt crisis, Merkel’s camp also acknowledges that much more needs to be done to restore trust in the EU. Brexit, they say, could be the catalyst to turn the tide.
“In Berlin people realize it’s important to seize the moment because it may not come back,” said Josef Janning, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “Time is not on the side of integration but of regression.”
That Merkel recognizes she has a limited time frame for action was evident last week when she met 15 national European leaders in an effort to begin building consensus in key areas. The shuttle diplomacy, which took the chancellor from the deck of an Italian aircraft carrier to Tallin and points between, was partly a confidence building exercise ahead of this month’s informal summit in Bratislava. Her message: Berlin listens.
A common complaint among Europe’s smaller members is that large countries, led by Berlin, bigfoot them in the EU decision-making process. That fear has strengthened the various regional blocs within the EU, such as Scandanavia, the Baltics or the so-called Visegrád group of Central European states.
Indeed, it was a common rejection of Merkel’s refugee policy that led to the often-fractious Visegrád group’s recent renaissance.
In Germany, Merkel’s swing through Eastern Europe was widely seen as a failure because she didn’t convince countries to accept any refugees. Yet that was never her plan. Recognizing that countries like Poland and Hungary wouldn’t back down, the German leader focused the talks on areas of common ground, in particular how to improve security with more intelligence sharing, securing the EU’s borders and preserving the bloc’s refugee pact with Turkey.
Another area of agreement: Brexit. Like Germany, Eastern European countries have little interest in pursuing a punitive approach with the U.K. during the Brexit talks and reject calls from France and other western countries for a hard line. While Berlin wants to safeguard the massive investments German companies such as Siemens and BMW have made in the U.K., Eastern European states like Poland and Romania want to protect the status of their citizens there and the remittances they send home.
“Merkel’s aim here was to repair Berlin’s ties with Eastern Europe that have been strained by the refugee crisis,” said Joerg Forbrig, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. in Berlin. “That’s important for the atmosphere within the EU.”
With the U.K. essentially out of the EU decision-making, she will try to build broader coalitions on important questions.
Merkel’s diplomatic offensive was also a sign that with the U.K. essentially out of the EU decision-making, she will try to build broader coalitions on important questions. She no longer believes Germany and France, even together with Italy which has joined their recent meetings, can act as a motor for the EU, analysts say. In addition to the loss of economic muscle in both France and Italy in recent years, Merkel’s position in key areas, in particular economic and fiscal policy, is often far removed from those in Paris and Rome.
For Merkel, meetings between the three are as much as about reining in French and Italian hopes for freer spending as they are about setting the EU’s agenda.
“She’s not trying to win them over to her course but trying to prevent them from running wild,” Janning said.
For the German leader, the Bratislava summit marks the start of what promises to the arduous task of restoring confidence in an EU plagued by weak leadership and competing national agendas. While even her critics say she is the only leader with the stature to tackle the bloc’s catalog of ills, they also complain that Germany’s political and economic dominance is at the root of many of the EU’s problems.
Even with the clock ticking, Merkel — ever the physicist — insists Europe study the problem before taking action.
“What we need to do is take stock of where we are,” she said this week in an interview the German television. “Instead of rushing into action, one should calmly deliberate.”
quarta-feira, 31 de agosto de 2016
Angela Merkel’s soft offensive / Merkel: 'Germany will remain Germany'
Merkel: 'Germany will remain Germany'
Published: 31 Aug 2016 11:44 GMT+02:00
One year after Angela Merkel first declared "we can do this," leading to a huge uptick in refugees applying for asylum, the Chancellor reflected this week on her policies and the future of Germany.
In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung published online on Tuesday, Merkel seemed as resolute as ever about the decision to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries.
When she first uttered her now often repeated - and mocked - mantra of “we can do this” one year ago, she said she never expected those few words to make such an impact.
“If you asked me before if I would introduce a distinctive phrase that would be quoted many times over, I would not have thought of this phrase.”
At the same time, she said that she used the phrase with “deep conviction… and with the awareness that we were dealing with a difficult and big task.” Merkel said that it was clear there were many hurdles and fears that she needed to dismantle.
Merkel also pointed out that Germany has not always been as proactive as it could be in helping refugees in the not so distant past. She said that after Germany took in a record number of refugees in the early 1990s from former Yugoslavia, the country was hesitant to do the same in the years that followed.
“We in Germany have also long ignored the problem,” the Chancellor said.
“In 2004 and 2005, many refugees came and we let Spain and others at the outer borders deal with it.
“After having taken in so many refugees during the Yugoslavian war, Germany was happy that it was now dealing with other priorities.”
Merkel has also recently faced a drop in approval ratings following several violent attacks in July that involved perpetrators who had sought asylum in Germany. In Würzburg, a 17-year-old Afghan refugee attacked a family on a train with an axe. Within the same week, a Syrian man blew himself up in Ansbach, injuring a dozen others.
German media later reported that both had been in contact with members of Isis.
The Chancellor said that it was “completely understandable” that there has been “unease and concern” following the attacks.
She said it showed that, among refugees there are some who did not arrive with pure intentions. This makes integration a huge challenge, she added.
But she also continued to reject the notion that there was a direct connection between terrorism and having so many refugees in the country.
“It is simply false that terrorism only first came here through refugees. It was already here, especially with the suspected terrorists that we have been monitoring.”
She maintained as well that the hundreds of thousands of refugees remaining in Germany would not change the character of the country.
“Germany will remain Germany, with all that we love and hold dear.”
The country has always undergone change since its inception, Merkel said, but she would not let Germany lose the values and principles that make it attractive.
"These are reflected in our liberality, our democracy, our constitutional state, and in our overwhelming commitment to a social market economy, through which our economic strength can absorb those who are weakest."