Angela Merkel used to be viewed like the German football team – invincible, with exceptional technical skill and a steely determination that always prevailed. Or, to use another metaphor, her style of governing was reminiscent of the slogan of the car-manufacturer Audi, Vorsprung Durch Technik: ‘Advantage through technical prowess’.
But all “good” things must come to an end. Earlier this week, Audi’s CEO Rupert Stadler was arrested for his alleged role in the Volkswagen Group’s diesel cheating scandal. And we all know what happened to Joachim Löw’s German football team in the World Cup.
Twelve years ago, Merkel summoned a crestfallen Jürgen Klinsmann for a dressing down after Germany lost a match. This year Klinsman resigned after Germany failed to make it to the last 16.
In response to a question about her life goals outside of politics way back in 1999 Merkel said: “At some point, I would like to find the right time to leave politics. That’s a lot more difficult than I had imagined. But I don’t want to be a half-dead wreck when I leave politics.” Merkel had just become secretary-general of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and sat down for an interview with the photographer Herlinde Koelbl for her book “Spuren der Macht” (Traces of Power).
That was also the year in which Merkel’s rise within the CDU began, along with the brutal revolutionary restructuring of the party into a left wing pretending to be centre right party. In subsequent years, Merkel jettisoned so many traditional CDU positions that it is more accurate to speak of a re-founding of a new party than a process of modernization. Many conservatives have since been unable to recognize their old party. And all the while, discomfort with Merkel’s leadership continued to grow, year after year, within the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU’s Bavarian sister party.
Since fall 2015, when almost a million people arrived in Germany as a result of Merkel’s liberal refugee policies, this discomfort has mutated into open rejection as people wake up and realise the damage her incrementalism has achieved.
Now Merkel’s future hangs in the balance as her coalition allies choose between accepting a EU compromise on migration or exploding her fourth government. Her CDU party and its conservative Bavarian CSU allies are holding separate meetings to weigh the results of last week’s EU summit, which agreed collective measures by the bloc’s 28 members to reduce immigration. CSU have moved further right to fend of the AfD from stealing their voters.
Merkel hopes the deals with Germany’s neighbours will deter Interior Minister and CSU leader Horst Seehofer from defying her by turning away at the border asylum seekers already registered in other EU nations. The unilateral move would force her to fire him, in turn prompting a CSU walkout that would cost her her majority in parliament.
According to a document sent to coalition partners, Merkel sought to assuage the hardliners with deals with 16 other countries to return already-registered migrants if they reached Germany.
Using the old fear porn, Merkel has warned that the issue of migration could decide the very future of the EU itself. The EU and bilateral deals were “only possible because the chancellor enjoys respect and authority throughout Europe,” Germany’s EU Commissioner and CDU politician Guenther Oettinger said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung weekly.
“That is very valuable for Germany, no-one should destroy it.”
But several central European nations including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia denied they had agreed to accept returned migrants. Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco have stated they have no intention of hosting migrant centres, even as they take millions from Europe in foreign aid every year.
“Given the different statements from some EU member countries, one can doubt whether all of the decisions at the EU Council will become reality,” head of the CSU parliamentary group Alexander Dobrindt told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Leaders and MPs from the Bavarian party will meet in Munich to decide their response, while Merkel and her top lieutenants will gather in Berlin.
EU leaders agreed on Friday to consider setting up “disembarkation platforms” outside the EU, most likely in North Africa, in a bid to discourage migrants and refugees boarding EU-bound smuggler boats.
Member countries could also create processing centres to determine whether the new arrivals are returned home as economic migrants or admitted as refugees in willing states.
At the national level, Merkel also proposes that migrants arriving in Germany who first registered in another EU country should be placed in special “admissions centres” under restrictive conditions, according to a document she sent to the CSU and coalition partners the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
“There will be a residency obligation reinforced with sanctions,” the document states.
Merkel told reporters on Friday that the EU and bilateral deals were “more than equivalent in their effect” to Seehofer’s demands.
The CSU’s Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder said at a political meeting on Saturday: “Of course what has been achieved in Brussels is more than we originally thought.”
Seehofer has yet to respond in public to the Brussels summit. But he and Merkel were spotted Saturday discussing the outcome with tense faces on the balcony of her Berlin office.
The chancellor’s frantic last-minute diplomacy was ultimately prompted by the CSU’s fear of losing its cherished absolute majority in Bavaria’s state parliament. The “Free State” with its beer-and-lederhosen Alpine traditions, powerful industries and impenetrable dialect has a more conservative bent than other German regions.
But the CSU and CDU together form a centre-right force that has dominated national politics for decades. Political stability was upset by Merkel’s 2015 decision to keep borders open to migrants and refugees arriving in Bavaria from the Middle East via the Balkans, Hungary and Austria.
Since then, more than one million people have arrived in Germany, with the anti-refugee, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) being propelled into federal parliament for the first time last year by outrage over immigration, leading to months of paralysis while Merkel struggled to find a workable coalition. This was telling and remarkable given that Merkel’s CDU was the most “right” party in the Bundestag since the Second World War, even though it was redesigned into a left wing party.
Opinion polls point to the AfD making a similarly spectacular entrance to Bavaria’s parliament in October…
Time to go traitor…