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Angela Merkel’s Zero Hour

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: German Chancellor Angela Merkel adresses the media during her annual summer press conference in German Federal Press Conference or Bundespressekonferenz on July 28, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel said recent attacks involving asylum-seekers carried out in Germany would not change its willingness to take in refugees. (Photo by Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is juggling challenges inside Germany and abroad.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Whether German Chancellor Angela Merkel can hold together the European Union at a time of growing populism in Europe and abroad will ultimately define her political legacy.

  • Facts


    • At home and in Europe, Merkel already faces a challenge from newly ascendant populist leaders.
    • Merkel has dealt effectively in the past with other high-maintenance peers, such as Silvio Berlusconi, Alexis Tsipras of Greece and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    • While Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen are still longshots to lead their countries, their nationalist platforms could pull mainstream leaders to the right.
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On a summer evening in July, Angela Merkel had good reason to be showing signs of strain. Britain had just cut the cord with Brussels. Russia’s border war with Ukraine was smoldering despite the Minsk agreement. In Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a key partner for the European Union, was asking for refugee funding, respect, and his good name back in a German court. In Vienna, Austrian justices threw out the country’s presidential election results, giving life to a far-right candidate. In Munich, a Bavarian ally, Horst Seehofer, complained about coming so often to Berlin, refusing to be her “traveling uncle.”

But on this warm night in the capital, the German chancellor seemed at ease, soaking in the mild weather, conversing, joking and networking at three events over a glass of wine. At two of the stops, she worked her way good-naturedly through the crowds, taking selfies with more than 10 people at each event. “You would think that with all that’s going on, a normal person would show it,” says Axel Wallrabenstein, a Berlin publicist who led the youth wing of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) for part of the 1990s.

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