Bill Emmott - International Author & Adviser

Article

Angela Merkel in danger
La Stampa - November 20, 2015

Obituaries of the great pro-EU chancellor of Germany, Helmut Schmidt, recently reminded us of how quickly political fortunes can change in the German system: one moment he was a man in command, the next he had been toppled and replaced by Helmut Kohl. Might the same fate await Chancellor Angela Merkel?  A year ago it would have seemed inconceivable. Now it looks a possibility.

Frau Merkel is, of course, completely different from Herr Schmidt. He was arrogant and plain-speaking, the opposite of diplomatic, while she is diffident and is famous for often delaying decisions seemingly to the last possible moment. Nor does she face any political opponents as formidable or well-supported as was Helmut Kohl when he succeeded Herr Schmidt. 

Nevertheless, her position is undoubtedly weakening. Voices within her own party, even her own government, have been showing signs of dissent, even at times of rebellion. Her uncharacteristically decisive stance on the refugee crisis, declaring Germanyís doors to be wide open, is causing the sort of political strains that the long, difficult euro crisis never did. 

The Paris terrorist atrocities have quietened the criticism and have caused her party to rally around her. The critics, even in Frau Merkelís always difficult sister party, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, have acknowledged that division and instability are the last things that Germany needs at a time like this. But the new peace will not last long.

What the Paris atrocities have done, all over Europe, is to strengthen the voices of those who oppose both mass immigration by Syrian and Iraqi refugees and the European Commissionís effort to share out the asylum-seekers between countries by quotas. The arguments used in Hungary, the Czech Republic or Slovakia against the quota system have not changed, but they have got louder and have gathered more support.

The same, in time, is likely to happen in Germany. There is no true link between the refugees who are fleeing war and violence in the Middle East and the terrorism that has just been seen in Paris, but there is clearly a psychological and political one that can and will be exploited. It will be exploited by the far right and by anti-euro forces such as the small Alternativ Fuer Deutschland, in the same way as it will be exploited in France by Marine Le Penís Front National and in Italy by Matteo Salviniís Lega Nord. The question for Frau Merkel is how far it will lead her own CDU-CSU party to start challenging her leadership.


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