Dubbed «Queen of Europe», German Chancellor Stands on Shaky Ground Before Crucial EU Summit
Alex GORKA | 17.02.2016 | WORLD / Europe

Dubbed «Queen of Europe», German Chancellor Stands on Shaky Ground Before Crucial EU Summit

Some time ago the world saw German Chancellor Angela Merkel basking in the glory. The differences between East and West Germany were being effectively bridged. The country became much more tolerant with the Germans of Turkish descent rooted in mainstream society and making it to the top. The grand coalition between the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats functioned effectively and smoothly. It lasted for a long time. Germany was an undisputed EU leader calling the shots in Europe. As recently as last year, the Chancellor’s picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine as the person of the year in 2015.

Those days seems to have become a thing of the past. Mrs Merkel is losing support from her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), while its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, has repeatedly asked Merkel to impose a cap on the number of refugees entering Germany. Some 40 conservative parliamentarians recently wrote to Merkel demanding a change of immigration policy.

The far-right Alternative for Germany Party is openly calling for getting the border shut. It is predicted to receive 7-15 percent of the votes in the coming state elections, taking voters away from the Social Democrats.

Beatrix von Storch, a European Parliament member from the Alternative for Germany Party, evoked the memory of Nazi war criminals that fled to South America in the 1940s to escape prosecution for war crimes. She said that Chancellor Angela Merkel would eventually have to flee for her own safety from Germany to South America over public anger at her liberal migration policy.

Germany’s Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Alexander Dobrindt, has attacked Chancellor Merkel’s open border migrant policy in an interview with Bavarian newspaper Münchner Merkur.

Mr Dobrindt – who is a member of Mrs Merkel’s sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) – demanded that any change to the policy must accept the inevitability of border closures and prepare for that eventuality. The interview is to date the most open criticism of Chancellor Merkel from within her own coalition government, reports EUobserver.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziére is losing his patience and is demanding a rapid reduction of the refugee flow. «Time is running out», he warned in a Spiegel interview at the end of January.

Anger and unrest pour onto the streets with violence against refugees on the rise. Merkel’s high approval ratings made her unassailable for many years; now 40 percent of respondents want the chancellor to resign. Her personal approval rating had dropped by 12 percentage points, to 46 percent.

The next week will most likely determine the future of the Chancellor and, perhaps, the future of the country itself. An EU summit meeting on Feb. 18 and 19 is the last chance for Germany to win over the rest of Europe to its open-door refugee policy. The summit will be an acid test for the EU – an organization known for its ability to tackle problems by building consensus, and using bureaucracy to patch up cracks. But this time even Merkel herself hardly believes that the next week's summit will result in a breakthrough.

Many believe that the agenda, including the refugee crisis, threats facing the euro currency and the UK’s plan to hold a referendum on whether to leave the EU may become a too heavy burden for the organization to shoulder. The event will take place against the background of temporary border controls introduced, many individual member states ignoring the EU’s announced refugee resettlement program and NATO warships steaming toward the Aegean Sea in a bid to impose order on the chaotic arrival of migrants and divisive budget crunch threatening the future of the euro single currency – a symbol of European integration. The Visegrad countries (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) say they are not interested in helping to tackle the asylum seekers problem because they have no history of taking in migrants. The EU’s authority has already been undermined by the failure to implement the Germany-imposed quota system calling for the resettlement of refugees in a number of EU member-states.

During the recent Munich security conference, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls openly rejected Germany’s refugee policy.

According to him, France does not want to accept any additional refugees. Paris opposes Germany’s plan to oblige other EU countries to use quotas for migrants. Thus, Chancellor Merkel has lost a powerful ally in refugee matters. Abandoned by France, defied by Eastern Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel cuts a lonely figure in her struggle for EU «solidarity» on the refugee crisis ahead of the summit.

At the Munich security conference, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that «it’s quite simply stupid to open Europe's doors wide and invite in everyone who wants to come to your country». «European migration policy is a total failure, all that is absolutely frightening», he told the Handelsblatt daily.

The refugee problem aside, the Chancellor’s policy on Russia is increasingly seen as another   failure. Germany has led the EU in shaping the policy on Ukraine’s crisis and anti-Russian sanctions. Recently, the United States, not a party to the Minsk agreements, has changed gear and became more involved in the Ukraine crisis discussing the issue eye-to-eye with the Russian government as German-Ukrainian diplomacy has lost momentum in recent months.

Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer openly challenged the Chancellor when he visited Moscow in early February.

«Extending anti-Russia sanctions was a mistake», said Seehofer, referring to the EU’s decision to prolong travel restrictions and economic embargoes against Russian individuals and companies late last year. «We need to consider the reality – they cannot be removed straight away. But we can deploy political means to repeal them… I think that they can be revoked in the foreseeable future», he noted.

The trip, unapproved by Merkel, evoked a storm in Germany, accusing the politician of breaking the EU consensus. Despite that, the Bavarian leader also promised to return to Russia latter in 2016, as part of a more sizable state delegation.

Last year, Franz Wiese, a German lawmaker, criticized the European Union and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for running anti-Russia policies. According to the lawmaker, the policies of the European Union in relation to Russia destroy German businesses. Dozens of German companies have already gone bankrupt because of the anti-Russian sanctions.

Lately, some European policymakers have started pointing out that anti-Russian sanctions have proven to be politically ineffective and economically harmful for both Russia and European countries. Business communities in Germany, Italy, Greece and other countries of the European Union have publicly protested against the continuation of sanctions against Russia. European businesses claim they have become «hostages of the anti-Russia sanctions’ policy». In fact, some EU countries are quietly seething inside because the sanctions inflict substantial damage on individual economies. In Italy, the former European Commission President Romano Prodi warns of economic disaster. Greece has always been against the sanctions. The bankrupt country must find billions to pay for measures to deal with the refugees. Hungary fights the EU because of the energy policy. Austria has taken a lot of damage, which made angry the otherwise level-headed President of the Chamber of Commerce.

France has spoken in favor of lifting the sanctions.

Even the German economy dares discreetly to defy Angela Merkel. The East Committee of the German Economy has strongly opposed the anti-Russian measures.

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This time the Chancellor did not even find time to make an appearance at the Munich security conference-2016 (February 12-14). With poll numbers dropping, coalition members raising voices to oppose the policies and EU allies ducking away as the refugee crisis has sparked deep divisions, Merkel, long dubbed the «Queen of Europe», is standing on shaky ground. The US may soon lose a tried-and-true ally in Europe as the EU may never become was it once was – an organization effectively tackling the issues on the basis of consensus. The German Chancellor and Europe are going through the hardest times ever. This is the worst moment for spoiling the relations with Russia instead of cooperating in an effort to cope with the range of problems of mutual concern. To the contrary, an improvement of relations between Germany and Russia could stand the Chancellor in good stead in the days of uncertainty.