POWER LIMITS

Churchill and the Chancellor

War and Conflict, World War II, Political Personalities, pic: 4th July 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill leaving No 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill leaving No 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The chancellor’s open-arms refugee policy plays well internationally. But in Germany, communities are overwhelmed by the huge influx and people feel the crisis is out of control.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Under agreed-upon transit zones, certain areas would be set up for migrants to be kept while their applications are processed.
    • Asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq, however, could circumvent the centers because they are refugees from war and violence.
    • The transit zones would only apply for people coming from safe countries or asylum seekers hiding where they come from.
  • Audio

    Audio

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All business and politics are local. Markets and political contexts can be as global as you want – but in the final analysis, it comes down to success at home.

So the German chancellor might well regard her place among the world’s most influential people as a warning. According to the U.S. business magazine Forbes, Angela Merkel is the second most powerful person in the world, in large part because of her leadership in Europe’s refugee crisis. That ranks her behind Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama. Another publication, The Economist, called her the “indispensable European.”

But statesmen and stateswomen often find that, at the peak of their international reputation and power, they are losing influence in their own country. You don’t even have to go back as far as Great Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill. Helmut Kohl, the father of German reunification, also was celebrated internationally. Germans on the other hand, had had enough of his politics, just a few years later.

Global popularity and international respect are not currencies that politicians can deposit in the bank and withdraw at a later date.

Comparisons are odious – particularly historical ones. But nobody could have contemplated just three months ago that the chancellor would be caught up in such a downward trend. Global popularity and international respect are not currencies that politicians can deposit in the bank and withdraw at a later date. Of course, it’s another two years until federal elections, but few party strategists would still put their money on Ms. Merkel winning in a cakewalk.

Few people now think back to those pictures from Elmau in upper Bavaria last June, when the chancellor sat chatting with the U.S. president and other world leaders at the G-7 summit. The scene was in keeping with Germany’s good situation at the time.

But anything that might emerge from next week’s G-20 summit in Turkey will not be immediately relevant for regional administrators, mayors and politicians in Germany. The chancellor might well be in familiar territory at the meeting of leaders from the world’s 20 major economies, and she will receive much approval for her refugee policy. But, all business and politics are local.

Ms. Merkel is still seen globally as the most powerful woman in Europe. But how much longer?

She has already lost popularity in several corners of the European Union for her modest attempts to push for fairer distribution of the refugee burden and to secure E.U. external borders.

Eastern European countries have long been quiet about the Greek crisis and have accepted their share of the burden resulting from the euro crisis. And in southern European countries, many seem to be enjoying silent revenge, thinking of the austerity policies prescribed for them by Germany.

There has also been a clear message from neighboring Austria that Ms. Merkel is wrong not to consider some form of border fences, which Austria said it would introduce last week along its border with Slovenia.

Ms. Merkel, as chancellor and head of the conservative Christian Democrats, is still the backbone of the European Union and its 28 member nations. But her influence is dwindling, especially if she depends on the goodwill of opponents like Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Germany’s governing coalition has now agreed to transit zones, where refugees would be kept until processed – and migrants with no chance of asylum would be filtered out.

So the outcome of the second meeting between Ms. Merkel and other coalition leaders — Horst Seehofer of the Bavarian-based conservative Christian Social Union, and Sigmar Gabriel of the left-leaning Social Democrats — will be more substantial than the first one last Sunday.

But it won’t be enough by a long way to get the refugee crisis under control, as shown by one single fact: The transit zones are only relevant for about 2.4 percent of all migrants. Asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq can circumvent the centers as refugees from war and violence. The transit zones would only apply for people coming from safe countries or asylum seekers hiding where they come from.

The outcome is being sold as a success of inestimable proportions. In terms of the quarrelling coalition partners, that may be the case, if you agree on the lowest common denominator. For the public who think it is absurd to avoid setting an upper limit for accepting refugees, it is a drop in the ocean.

The center-right CDU/CSU government coalition parties are supporting the chancellor‘s refugee policy for different reasons. There is an uneasy truce in the parliamentary group of CDU and CSU, which could be terminated at any time.

Ms. Merkel’s critics see no alternative to her in their own ranks, and others still believe in her assurance: “We can manage.” The first point is correct. But there are substantial doubts about the second.

 

To contact the author: sigmund@handelsblatt.com

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