By Mathew D. Rose, a freelance journalist in Berlin
The inexorable political decline of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as her traditional opponents, the Social Democrats, is gathering pace. Upcoming elections in three German federal states on 13 March have given this process a considerable fillip. Both Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party and the Social Democrats are expecting some harrowing results.
It seems that each new crisis that Ms Merkel creates is more formidable than its predecessor. Her mishandling of the refugee question – nationally and internationally – is making her conflict with Greece last year appear like a festival of love and unity.
Ms Merkel’s unilateral decision to accept all refugees from war ravaged nations has galvanised most of the EU and other European nations against Germany’s hegemony. Ministers of the EU nations Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia met last week in Vienna with their colleagues from the Balkan countries of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia to discuss closing their borders to refugees, fearing that they too will suffer the fate of Greece and Italy, with tens of thousands of refugees stranded in their countries. These discussions were swiftly put into action, with Greece again bearing the brunt of Ms Merkel’s calamitous policy.
The refugee conflict is changing the political map of Europe. It has given the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) a political raison d’être. Viktor Orbán, once the shunned leader of Hungary due to his authoritarian regime, appears today more of a creditable leader in Europe than Merkel herself. Other EU nations are maybe less vociferous in their criticism of Ms Merkel, but are shunning her refugee policy and even closing their borders – even Scandinavian nations, which until recently was inconceivable. The destruction of the spirit of unity and solidarity in the EU, which Ms Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, have destroyed, has now permeated the policy of EU nations.
Although Ms Merkel tries to appear concerned about the newest developments in the refugee crisis, one has the feeling that the reduction in the flow of refugees arriving in Germany is timely – if not tacitly supported. In two weeks there are three state elections in Germany. One of these is in the state of Baden-Württemberg, considered the heartland of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party. In the previous election, four years ago, the Christian Democrats were voted out of government for the first time since the war. This was a result of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, shortly after Ms Merkel’s government had passed legislation favourable to the nuclear lobby, a principle financier of her party. Although the Christian Democrats made a precipitate U-turn, the debacle was ineluctable. This time round it appears that the Greens could well receive more votes than the Christian Democrats, many of whom are defecting to the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD: neo-liberal, ultra-conservative and racist, including considering shooting entering immigrants at the border). Others Christian Democrats are voting for the Greens, who have simply co-opted most policies of the Christian Democrats, while being less corrupt – still. The situation for the Social-Democrats, who have been the Green’s coalition partner, is no less dramatic, being threatened with relegation to fourth place behind the AfD.
In the state of Rheinland-Pfalz Ms Merkel may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Her party that had a lead of up to 13 percent over the Social Democrats is currently scarcely ahead. Good news for the Social Democrats, but in the third state, Sachsen-Anhalt in the former GDR, the party is also struggling not to land in fourth place behind the AfD.
What might save the Christian Democrats are Hungarian President Viktor Orbán and his co-renitents, who have blocked the Balkan route used by refugees travelling from Greece to Germany. Ms Merkel has been critical of this policy, but she has not appeared terribly stern. They are providing her with a respite in the flow of refugees. Orbán was invited to visit the Christian Socialist Union’s (the CSU is the sister party of Ms Merkel’s CDU in the “Christian Union”) leader Horst Seehofer in Bavaria in September and Seehofer is on his way to meet with Orbán coming Friday. Add to this the cessation of criticism of Orbán in German state media, which prior to this portrayed him as equally dangerous for European democracy as Vladimir Putin, are a bellwether of the current political development.
For the Social Democrats under the leadership of Sigmar Gabriel, who seems more concerned with lining up some well remunerated jobs in advance of his retirement from politics, there is a bleak future. Like most social democratic parties in Europe, their motto seems to be “fill your pockets while you can”. Following the debacles of the social democrats in Spain and their compatriots in the Republic of Ireland, who appear to have gone into a death spin, the German social democrats seem to be following in their footsteps. The party will probably struggle to receive 20 percent of the vote at the next national election in a year’s time.
Domestically Ms Merkel’s party and the Social Democrats have tried to save themselves by changing the German laws regarding refugees. Nations that were until recently considered warzones or systematically violating human rights have been declared “safe countries of origin”, making refugees from these countries “economic migrants” to facilitate fast track extradition. Benefits for refugees are being slashed, as well not permitting refugees to bring their families to join them in Germany.
The situation became palpably absurd, as Ms Merkel declared that refugees have to integrate themselves in German society or leave, only then to declare that she expects them to depart as soon as the conflicts in their nations have terminated.
Ms Merkel’s real hope is purchasing the acquiescence of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stop all refugees at his own border, thus relocating the source of the current political conflict out of Europe and into Turkey. Erdoğan, who is fighting a war against the Kurds, would appreciate the billions of Euros on offer, as well as the EU members of NATO turning a blind eye to his pact with ISIS. Let us have no illusions: Erdoğan is an anti-democratic and authoritarian, with nor respect for human rights. He is on the threshold of becoming a dictator. He knows he has all the political trumps in his hand in negotiations with Ms Merkel and will exact a commensurate price. This is only the most recent juncture in a political disaster that spiralled out of control months ago.
Add to this the newly created mission of NATO using a fleet of warships to stop the flow of refugees from Turkey to Greece, while negotiations continue with Erdoğan. It is cynically claimed that the NATO force is there to arrest those smuggling the refugees. This is absurd. As everyone knows, the smugglers put the refugees in dilapidated boats and send them off on their own. They are not cruise operators. Thus the NATO ships are in effect sending back refugees, many of them women and children, to Turkey. Is this what NATO was created for? Where were the NATO ships, as thousands of refugees were drowning in the Mediterranean?
The whole affair, as with Greece before it, has become a disgrace for Europe. I doubt it would surprise anyone, should negotiations with Turkey fail, and Ms Merkel announced that her government was in talks with ISIS to assist in stemming the refugee threat to European Civilisation.
German leaders are infallible, so there is no way back for Ms Merkel, although there is not much backtracking left to do. The upcoming elections in Germany could well decide her political fate in Germany. The Christian Union would have to scramble to find a new leader for the upcoming national elections in 2017, although that is not really a problem. The party has enough mediocre politicians like Ms Merkel in the wings, just as capable of following the policy dictated by German and international business interests. Germany’s domestic political landscape is in flux, as in most of Europe, which makes any predictions concerning the future precarious.
As for Ms Merkel, she will have been a victim of endemic German hubris, not content with being the “Mutti” of Germany and the iron fist of Europe, but wanting to be a saint as well (and pocket the Nobel Peace Prize). Unfortunately – as always – others have paid and will pay the price: the thousands of refugees who will have died trying to reach the shelter of Europe, as well as those that make it, but will become victims of European racism and greed, and especially of the corrupt European political class. The great hope are the millions of decent Europeans, who know what solidarity is and value the Humanitarianism that was born here.