Angela Merkel, Person of the Year? Eine Katastrophe, more like –

No sooner did Mrs Merkel celebrate her 10th anniversary in office earlier this year, than her luck seemed to run out. First there was the Euro crisis, which culminated in her decision to impose a tough austerity regime on Greece, even though the Greeks had just rejected such a policy at the ballot box – not once but twice within a year.

The spectacle of Germany bullying smaller countries to preserve the single currency of which it has been the main beneficiary has stirred memories of a Nazi past that Mrs Merkel and her predecessors have worked hard to atone for.


Then came the migrant crisis, which has proved to be an even greater test of European politics in general and of Mrs Merkel’s statesmanship in particular. Her decision to throw open the door to Syrian refugees was greeted at first with effusive praise from the media, especially in her own country,where she is known as “Mutti” (“Mum”). Germany’s paper of record, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, hailed her as “the mother of Europe”. The Economist called her “the indispensable European”.

The euphoria, though, was short-lived. For Angela Merkel’s signal was received loud and clear not only in Syria but across the Muslim world, from Nigeria to Bangladesh, from Albania to Afghanistan. Within weeks, millions more were on the march: not only refugees, but economic migrants too. Almost to a man – and they are mostly young men – those that did not want to come to Britain had a single destination in mind: Germany.

Migration is always a matter of numbers. Mrs Merkel had already allowed well over a million immigrants of all kinds into Germany in 2014, more than the United States (a country four times the size and with a long history of immigration).

Initially, the estimate was that half a million refugees would come this year, and for the next few years. But the numbers have had to be steadily revised upwards and it is likely that at least a million will have sought asylum in Germany by the end of this year, not counting other migrants.

This human tsunami has had effects all over Europe. First there was the attempt to impose quotas on other EU countries, which has been bitterly resisted and resented. Coming so soon after the Euro crisis, Mrs Merkel’s finger-wagging and (in the case of Hungary) threat of sanctions over an issue that goes to the core of national identity has done even greater damage to Germany’s reputation.

It has also been counter-productive. Poland, for example, went on to elect a fiercely anti-immigrant party to replace the government that obeyed her order to accept a symbolic 5,000 migrants.

Mrs Merkel had to fly to Ankara shortly before last month’s Turkish election to beg President Erdogan to slow down the flow of refugees through his country. In return, she gave him everything he wanted, even holding out the possibility of fast-tracking Turkish EU membership or at least giving 80 million Turks the right to travel and work in Europe.

This diplomatic triumph helped Mr Erdogan to win a decisive majority, which will help him to accomplish his ultimate aim of an Islamist dictatorship.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in no mood to negotiateGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel is in no mood to negotiate  Photo: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP

Back home, Mrs Merkel’s popularity has plummeted and so has that of her party. While it is too soon to suggest that her grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats will break up, if the in-fighting within her own party gets out of control she may decide to call it a day, just as the late Helmut Schmidt did in 1982.

Like Mrs Thatcher towards the end, Mrs Merkel’s judgement seems to have be failing her. Her grandstanding over migration was a rare lapse for a cautious pragmatist who prefers to follow public opinion rather than to lead it. She was stung by criticism of her craven decision to bail out of nuclear power.

Her handling of the Ukraine crisis also seemed insensitive to the fears of smaller nations menaced by Putin’s Russia.

Though she has always been a great survivor, and is still only 61, it seems that her time may be up. It has suddenly got lonelier at the top. Even her husband and fellow physicist Professor Joachim Sauer told German students on a recent visit to Oxford that he had doubts about her policy.

Konrad Adenauer, the man who rebuilt West Germany after 1945, had the slogan “No experiments”. Angela Merkel forgot that slogan when she embarked on the experiment of accepting millions of migrants into a country that didn’t want them. If she doesn’t watch out “The Chancellor of the Free Word”, may soon not even be the Chancellor of Germany.

Daniel Johnson is the editor of Standpoint


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