In May, Angela Merkel declared that Germany could no longer rely on Germany’s strongest traditional allies – the United States and the United Kingdom. Instead, she confidently asserted that the destiny of the European continent was “in our own hands.” (The irony that this bombastic speech was delivered in a Munich beer hall was apparently lost on Merkel).
The Chancellor’s speech seemed to play into the widespread claim that Germany has replaced the United States as the leader of the free world and is now the foremost custodian of Western values. Publications ranging from the Guardian to the Independent have been quick to confer global leadership to Germany in the wake of Brexit and the new US presidency. However, the policies of Angela Merkel and the behaviour of the German Republic have served only to divide and imperil Europe – not unify it.
The celebrations of Angela Merkel’s supporters of her fourth successive re-election as Chancellor were muted and hollow. This is understandable. Despite Germany’s thriving economy, its political and social fabric is deeply fragmented. Merkel’s centre right Christian Democrats recorded its worst electoral performance since 1949 and as it stands six parties will enter the Bundestag (a rarity since as a political party requires 5% of the vote to enter the Parliament).
As a result, Angela Merkel is seeking to form a coalition with the pro-business FDP and the Greens. The logical conflict between a party which proposes free market economic principles and a party which advocates environmentalist legislation signifies that a difficult negotiation period lies ahead.
However, in order to pursue this coalition, Merkel has been forced by her Bavarian sister party, the CSU, to renege on one of her most steadfast policies – a refusal to place a cap on refugees and migrants coming to Germany.
Merkel’s departure from her immigration policies of the past two years indicates her acknowledgement of the disastrous mistakes made. Merkel must now to attempt to win back the conservative voters who have abandoned her – people she has consistently maligned in the past.
The Chancellor has admitted herself that the open door policy has damaged her party. A more sincere admission would have recognised how the policy had damaged the country. The German Federal Statistics Office recorded the entry of 2 million people into Germany in 2015 alone. The Vice President of the European Commission admitted that 60% of these migrants were motivated by economic reasons and were not fleeing conflict or persecution.
The CIA also revealed that ISIS were using the flow of migrants to smuggle its fighters into Europe. The unsustainability of the numbers of people entering the country coupled with a spate of terror attacks has led to the most significant rise of far right extremism in Germany since the Second World War. For the first time in the new German Republic’s history, an ultranationalist party will have a major stake in German political discourse.
The blame for the rise of the AfD lies squarely with Angela Merkel. The migrant crisis that Germany (and Europe) experienced was entirely avoidable. Merkel’s pleas for as many people as possible to come to Germany triggered a mass influx of humanity that Europe has not seen since the aftermath of the Second World War.
Many commentators have suggested that Merkel’s policy was an altruistic display of humanitarianism, but a glance at Germany’s history demonstrates that Merkel’s motives may have been more cynical.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, West Germany invited enormous numbers of foreign workers from Turkey to offset labour shortages caused by the war. With Germany’s current declining birth rates, it is difficult to accept Merkel’s sanctimonious lectures on the charitable virtues of admitting refugees, but rather view her open door policy as an opportunistic attempt to import a cheap labour force into Germany.
Merkel’s endeavours to fund the future wave of German pensions has not only stoked division at home, but isolated her Eastern and Mediterranean neighbours. Hungary and Slovakia have mounted unsuccessful legal challenges to the EU’s migrant quota system and anti-EU sentiment is understandably endemic in those countries.
Relations between Berlin and Warsaw have also significantly worsened over the past two years. Germany’s concessions to Turkey in the migrant deal in March 2016 have only served to embolden and empower Erdogan’s government. These are certainly not the actions of a strong global leader.
Angela Merkel, several senior German politicians and much of the liberal intelligentsia were quick to reprimand Greece on its irresponsible borrowing, and warned that its actions threatened European unity. Surely Angela Merkel has repeated Greece’s folly? Germany’s reckless suspension of conventional immigration procedure has plunged Europe into an identity crisis and given a platform to a plethora of extremist parties, ranging from Hungary to the Netherlands. I somehow doubt that Germany will incur the same level of scorn subjected to the Greeks.
No, Germany is not the leader of the free world.
Germany’s trade surplus with other European countries has led to clear imbalances within the Eurozone and its advocacy of greater EU integration is motivated only by a desire to maintain its economic primacy over the European continent.
The results of Merkel’s immigration policies will lead to irrevocable changes across Europe and bring great challenges to integrate the newcomers and maintain societal cohesion.
The turbulent elections in Germany indicate only a fraction of the challenges to come. Instead of placing Angela Merkel on a pedestal, perhaps we should recognise the damage she has caused.