terça-feira, 6 de setembro de 2016
How Angela Merkel will weather the storm
How Angela Merkel will weather the storm
The embattled chancellor’s strategy could carry her to reelection.
By JOERG FORBRIG 9/6/16, 2:09 PM CET
BERLIN — The year that will decide Angela Merkel’s political fate could not have gotten off to a worse start. With German federal elections a mere 12 months away, Merkel’s Christian-Democratic Union suffered a resounding defeat in regional elections in her home state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where it was outperformed by the right-wing and anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The vote was more than just symbolic. It displayed all the ingredients of a perfect political storm that could sweep Merkel from office. Yet instead of rushing a response, she has opted to wait it out. Her patience is a sound strategy, and perhaps her best chance of staying in office despite the considerable obstacles ahead.
Elections have become referendums on German refugee policy. Questions that typically win or lose elections — the economy, regional development, the welfare state — have faded from view. Voters have been oblivious to the fact that the country’s coffers, and Germans’ wallets, are fuller than they have been in a long time.
Nor does it seem to matter that the number of refugee arrivals has dropped sharply and that the government’s handling of the situation has improved significantly. Instead, votes are cast based on a decision that has been attributed to the chancellor: the decision not to close Germany’s borders.
Votes are cast based on a decision that has been attributed to the chancellor: the decision not to close Germany’s borders.
The country’s focus on Merkel and “her” refugee policy has polarized the population and fueled extremists on the right. As a result, the AfD, whose sole demand appears to be to remove Merkel and close the borders, has soared.
More worryingly for Merkel, the political mainstream has begun to move away from the refugee policy that it once supported wholeheartedly. Whether from the opposition Left and Green parties or the governing coalition of Christian and Social Democrats, politicians are desperate to save their political skins from the anti-establishment and right-wing onslaught. Their scapegoat, of course, is Merkel.
Singled out, the once uncontested German leader has seen her ratings go into free fall. Her approval rates dropped from more than 70 percent before the refugee crisis to 45 percent, and her party’s rating fell from around 40 percent to just above 30 percent nationwide.
Support for Merkel from within her own party has eroded and critics have become more vocal. Some, especially from Bavaria, openly challenge her leadership. Long-time conservatives are defecting noisily, and regional candidates prefer that she stay away from their campaign trail. The party base has implored the chancellor to change course. But Merkel knows that yielding now would come at an even higher political price than sticking to her principles on migration.
AfD supporters protest against Angela Merkel's immigration policy in 2015 | Sean Gallup/Getty Images
AfD supporters protest against Angela Merkel’s immigration policy in 2015 | Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The party’s current weakness, and dim prospects to recover its lost strength, is not unique to the conservatives, however. Last weekend’s election, like most recent ones, recorded losses for all mainstream parties — a signal that the political balance in Germany is shifting.
A gradual weakening of the Volksparteien has been accelerated by the recent emergence of a populist party on the right. In combination, this means that garnering sufficient majorities and building stable governing coalitions will become increasingly difficult.
The trend reduces Merkel’s coalition options, despite the fact that her party is still bound to win the next federal elections. Both her allegedly preferred next alliance with the Greens, and the historically standard coalition with the Free Democrats, are unlikely to get enough votes to govern. Neither the Left party nor the Alternative for Germany are ideologically compatible with the Christian Democrats.
What is left, then, is a continued “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats. To preserve this option, Merkel has to do what she’s been doing: tolerate the many contrarian strains in her current coalition and weather the numerous attacks made by her allies in government.
As if these domestic storm clouds were not enough, more trouble is in the making on the European and international stage. The refugee question has not been resolved, and the EU’s deal with Turkey is under even greater pressure following the July coup. The eurozone crisis simmers beneath the surface, and post-Brexit EU is still shrouded in uncertainty. Russian aggression looms large, and judging by the U.S. elections, the Kremlin may well interfere with the German ballot next year.
In the face of all these challenges, Merkel is undoubtedly the key European figure. This means, though, that she will be held responsible for failing to stamp out these international fires.
What fuels her patience is the certainty that no credible alternative for chancellor exists within her own party, as even her fiercest critics will admit.
Pressured from so many sides, Merkel seems to have taken a page from the playbook of her political mentor Helmut Kohl, who was famous for “sitting things out.” She is steadfast in her decision to help refugees, hoping that time will prove her right. Merkel is no doubt hoping that the issue will lose some of its centrality in German public debate, and that other, more classical electoral issues will return to the agenda.
Merkel has retained her stoic calm in the face of vicious political attacks from both within her own bloc and her junior partner in government. What fuels her patience is the certainty that no credible alternative for chancellor exists within her own party, as even her fiercest critics will admit.
Just as importantly, she can count on the fact that the Social Democrats also lack a credible alternative to the coalition with the Christian Democrats, despite their current flirtations with the Left and Green parties. They are effectively condemned to rule with her beyond the fall of next year.
Ostensibly, Merkel is waiting to announce her decision to run again until she has the clear backing of her own party later this year. What’s more likely is that she is hoping the coming half-year gap in the German election calendar will allow some of the dust to settle, and give her time to recover her high approval ratings. In the meantime, she has thrown herself fully into EU politics, just like her political father and predecessor would have done.
It’s a reasonable approach by the embattled chancellor. Chances are that, despite everyone’s current alarmism, Teflon Merkel will simply do it again.
Joerg Forbrig is a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin.