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Merkel’s Power Shaken by Refugee Crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Time magazine’s “person of the year” in 2015, is facing her biggest political crisis as her welcoming of Mideast refugees has troubled and angered many Europeans, raising the possibility that Merkel’s days as the Continent’s undisputed leader may be numbered, writes Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow
The online edition of Bloomberg News carried a lead story entitled “Merkel in Peril with Window to Tame EU’s Refugee Crisis.” It was a commendable effort to flag the possibility of political change at the top of Europe’s leading country, a prospect that most mainstream U.S. and even European media still overlook.
In the article on Thursday, the writers took into account the direct challenge to Merkel’s open borders’ policy on refugees coming from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer disparaged Merkel’s failure to make the slightest concession to her detractors when she spoke to a CSU gathering in Wildbad Kreuth on Wednesday. He concluded, “We’re looking at some difficult weeks and months ahead.”

President Barack Obama at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on June 19, 2013.
President Barack Obama at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on June 19, 2013.

Bloomberg News also directed attention toward what it called “unprecedented pressure” from within Merkel’s own faction, making reference to a letter signed by 50 CDU deputies calling for the government to tighten border security to counter the refugee influx. Previously, 56 deputies had made known their disapproval, bringing the number in her faction opposed to her refugee policy to one-third.
Yet, in the end, the article’s authors do not believe Merkel’s hold on power is genuinely imperiled, as the title tantalizingly suggests, because she has weathered other storms in her long tenure, because she has seen to it that there is no successor in line to take over should her colleagues in the party wish to dump her, and because the German economy is humming along, with enviably low unemployment and GDP continuing to grow.
The notion of Merkel facing a “closing window” of opportunity to solve the refugee crisis is presented by the authors as coming from the Dutch premier and other neighboring countries, and without reference to dynamics inside German politics.
Worse Than It Looks
While the argument in favor of the German Chancellor remaining in her post is credible, it is not persuasive and in what follows I intend to raise several factors that the Bloomberg News team ignored.
These suggest that Merkel has finally laid the groundwork for her own political demise by uncharacteristic impulsiveness, by the failure of her intuitive faculties, and by her trademark stubbornness and doubling down in the face of opposition.
My reading of the German press, by which I mean leading dailies Frankfurter Allgemeine, Sùddeutsche Zeitung and Bild, over the last week turns up what I would call a step-by-step preparation of the German public for regime change. This is seen firstly in the derogatory adjectives being attached to Merkel and her refugee policy, including “brainless” (kopflos) and “idealistic.”
To be sure, “idealistic” would normally ring positive, but when applied to the Iron Chancellor it takes on an unequivocally negative connotation given her reputation among professionals for cynically manipulating the political levers to gain and keep power and her reliance on polls rather than “grand ideas” or even principles to guide her policy-making. I call her decision to welcome and embrace the flood of Syrian, Iraqi and other Middle Eastern refugees impulsive given its immediate context.
The summer of 2015 was a public relations disaster for Merkel, as viewed from many European countries. She was widely seen as the European leader calling the shots on what was undeniably the rape of Greece, a power play in which the Troika of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund steamrolled the will of the Greek people as expressed in a referendum seeking relief from austerity. Instead, the Troika forced continued austerity on the supine and helpless nation.
This action contradicted the European Union’s founding principle of solidarity and it went down badly in the streets, heightening public skepticism about the E.U. project as a whole and anger toward Germany as the perceived E.U. hegemon.
Last summer was also the time when Merkel was on television giving a condescending and cold-hearted response to the plea of a German-speaking Palestinian girl to spare her family deportation, described by a headline in The Guardian on July 16 as follows: “Angela Merkel comforts sobbing refugee but says Germany can’t help everyone.”
Considering that within two months, the Chancellor became the public champion of receiving all self-declared Middle Eastern asylum seekers, it would be safe to assume that the decision was taken on the basis of her seemingly unfailing political intuition, without adequate consultation of polls, without due consultations with her associates in the governing coalition, not to mention other Member States of the European Union.
And this one time when emotion won out over reason in her decision-making, Merkel turned out to be dead wrong in terms of the impact that the refugee crisis would have on the E.U.’s cohesion. Merkel’s error was compounded by her mulishness.
A Destabilizing Flood
The mass movement of Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan and other refugees across E.U. borders on their way to Germany in late summer caused alarm initially in Greece, where they landed from Turkey in their overcrowded dinghies, and then caused alarm and desperate measures of control in the Balkan states as the refugees progressed on their journey.
Hungary was the first, most vociferous and quickest to act to seal its borders and reject the influx. Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic followed in succession. Austria remained open so long as the transit into Germany was effective. Meanwhile within Germany, in Bavaria, the country’s main entry point, nerves were fraying. And neighboring E.U. countries to the north and west looked on with trepidation.
The shift from concern to outrage over the open-door policy was triggered by the shocking revelations of New Year’s Eve chaos in Cologne, with robbery and sexual aggression perpetrated by a thousand or more North African and Middle Eastern youths grabbing world media attention after attempts by the local authorities to maintain a news blackout failed.
Both within Germany and in the neighboring states the mood began to turn against Merkel and against those elites who stood by her. Recent polls in The Netherlands, for example, showed that the refugee issue and its associated issue of Islam making claims in Christian Europe were wind to the sails of the far right, xenophobic movements. Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party, which had been in retreat a year ago, now could possibly win control of parliament on a platform of closing borders to refugees and exiting the European Union.
Though national elections in Holland are not scheduled before March 2017, there will be a referendum on ratification of the Ukraine Association Agreement with the E.U. on April 6. This is essentially an anti-immigrant referendum, since Ukraine is seen, with justification, as likely to send vast numbers of “visitors” to the E.U. if the association agreement goes through and is followed by waiver of visa requirements.
Poland already is host to over one million Ukrainians and its welcome mat has been taken indoors. The flat refusal of Poland to participate in the distribution of refugees that Merkel wanted to orchestrate through the E.U. central institutions resonated in the German political class and precipitated the nasty German-Polish confrontation now being played out in the European Commission and the Parliament. This is one more serious crack in E.U. consensus brought on by Germany’s egoistical policies.
Within Germany, initial polls right after New Year’s showed a persistence of the humanitarian spirit and a slight uptick (2 percentage points) in Merkel’s approval rating. But as the significance of the debacle before the Hauptbahnhof in Cologne and television reports of molestation of good German girls in parks by frisky Arabs circulated on television and in social media, popular support for the Chancellor’s policies began to melt away.
The media conformism came unstuck. We have seen in the past week how rejection of anti-asylum-seekers comes not only from the far right, among the Alternativ fùr Deutschland (AfD) and Pegida parties, but also from the left. Indeed, the FAZ was quick to note the anti-refugee position recently taken by the standard-bearer of Die Linke in the Bundestag, Sahra Wagenknecht.
The loosening of minds and tongues in Germany by the vision of refugee waves on their shores will soon be measurable not only by public opinion polls but by the legislative elections in three of Germany’s Länder in mid-March: Rhineland Westphalia, Baden Wurtemberg and Saxony.
The German newspapers speak of an erosion of Merkel’s popular support. The latest poll conducted for Bild confirms a 2.5 percentage-point loss for the CDU-CSU in the last week, with a rating of 32.5 percent. Meanwhile the SPD (22.5 percent), AfD (12.5 percent) and Free Democrats (FDP – 6.5 percent) are rising. I submit that the true “window of opportunity” for Merkel is to stem the flow of refugees or to appear to do that before the voters go to the ballot box.
All indications are that Merkel is counting on a deal with the Turks to pull her chestnuts out of the fire. That is the logic of her meeting on Friday with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. And yet, it is totally unrealistic to expect to see a tangible cut-off of the refugee flows now when the Turks were unable to deliver on similar promises made several months ago.
Ultimatums issued by German politicians both within and outside Merkel’s party speaking of mid-March as the deadline for results are nothing more than a fig leaf for calls for her ouster.
While it is true that Merkel has cleared the field of worthy successors within her party, it must be recalled that the CDU-CSU are governing in a coalition with the Socialists (SPD). If there is a serious setback for the CDU, if there is a marked advance of the non-coalition parties in mid-March, we may expect a sauve qui peut – or run away if you can – psychology to set in among all the political actors, in which case regime change in Berlin becomes a distinct possibility.

  1. Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to © Gilbert Doctorow, 2015

  9 comments for “Merkel’s Power Shaken by Refugee Crisis”

  1. James lake
    January 21, 2016 at 11:40 pm
    merkels actions are hard to understand. I am in the UK; most people think she has gone crazy.
    Purely as savvy politician any type of support for immigration( these people are not refugees but migrants choosing to go to germany) is not a vote winner; especially when you are pushing austerity policies on the EU, it is not designed to be popular action.
    why on earth did she create this mess then double down on it.
  2. Joe Tedesky
    January 22, 2016 at 2:22 am
    Merkel may want to pay close attention to foreign NGO’s & zone in on the Main Stream Media narrative put out on her. Other than that, she makes bad decisions.
  3. Abe
    January 22, 2016 at 3:09 am
    While on the surface it may seem that the refugee crisis has taken Western leaders by surprise, in fact it is all part of their plan for global domination, which was outlined in a paper by the now-defunct group of US neoconservatives known as The Project for a New American Century (PNAC).
    In September 2000, the group released a document entitled: ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses – Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,’ in which the power-crazed individuals came out and admitted their goal of asserting US military power around the globe in order to remain the world’s supreme superpower.
    The PNAC identified five nations it deems as “deeply hostile to America” – North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria (former US General Wesley Clark added another three to that list a bit later: Lebanon, Somalia and Sudan). It should come as no surprise that two of these five countries have already suffered a US-led occupation/capitulation, while Syria is still managing to survive, albeit only due to the military intervention of Russia.
    Moscow seems to have come to the correct conclusion that Islamic State is simply a proxy army created by the United States to smash down the doors of sovereign states.
    Judging by the scope of these diabolical plans, it is altogether impossible that the United States could not see well in advance that a flood of desperate refugees would soon be streaming towards the European Union in search of safety.
    But again, this is part of the overall plan that the US elite desire, otherwise they would not be so aggressively pushing for the rights of the illegal aliens over the rights of their natural born citizens.
    This makes sense when we consider the absolute wreck that the Western elite have made of the European economy, with nations like Greece, Italy, Portugal and others on the brink of total insolvency, and only surviving due to impossible-to-return loans pushed on them by the IMF and World Bank.
    US Elites Are Trying to Destroy Europe with Immigrants
    By Robert Bridge
    • N Dalton
      January 22, 2016 at 5:38 am
      US Elites Are Trying to Destroy Europe with Immigrants . . . especially Germany.
      Not only `US Elites` – whatever the core definition – one does not look too far to find that very subject being pushed by `Prominent British Jews Advocate Increases in Refugees`.
      It`s obviously NO coincidence `that the most important Jewish organization and the largest Jewish newspaper pushing for even higher levels of immigration `, however,has been but a devised plan by those very Jewish organization in the works for years.
      • Abe
        January 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm
        Max Blumenthal, journalist and author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013) and The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza (2015) on the political sensibilities of politician Gregor Gysi, key figure of the The Left (Die Linke) party in Germany:
        During an address before the Rosa Luxemburg Institute on the occasion of Israel’s 60th birthday in 2008, Gysi made his most public bid for mainstream respectability. Proclaiming that anti-imperialism could no longer “be placed in a meaningful way” within leftist discourse, Gysi railed against expressions of Palestine solidarity within his party. “Anti-Zionism can no longer be an acceptable position for the left in general, and the Die Linke party in particular,” he declared. He went on to describe “solidarity with Israel” as an essential component of Germany’s “reason of state.”
        Following a stem-winding survey of the Zionist movement’s history and its criticism from within the left, Gysi concluded, “If we choose a position of enlightened Jewish anti-Zionism…we still have the problem of ignoring the worst experiences of the 20th century, which expose enlightened Jewish anti-Zionism as a total illusion.”
        The Die Linke leader’s speech echoed an address delivered in Israel’s Knesset just a few months prior by Chancellor Angela Merkel in which she declared that preserving “Israel’s security…is part of my country’s raison d’être.”
        In a sardonic assessment of Gysi’s foreign policy pivot, left-wing columnist Werner Pirker wrote, “Gysi admires the Israeli democracy not in spite of, but because of its exclusiveness… With his anniversary speech for Israel Gregor Gysi passed his foreign policy test.”
        In June 2011, Gysi imposed a de facto gag rule on his party’s left wing called the “Three Point Catalog.” It read as follows: “We will neither take part in [political] initiatives on the Middle East which (1) call for a one-state-solution for Palestine and Israel, nor (2) call for boycotts against Israeli products, nor (3) will we take part in this year’s ‘Gaza-flotilla’. We expect from our personal employees and our fraction employees that they champion these positions.”
        A month later, Die Linke’s executive board voted for the first time to recognize Israel’s “right to exist.” Among those who took credit for the vote, and for sustaining pressure on Gysi, was a recently formed pro-Israel organization called BAK Shalom.
        The Anti-Germans
        BAK Shalom drew its membership from adherents of the bizarre movement known as “die antideutsch Linke”—in short, the Anti-Germans. Born after reunification against the phantom threat of a second Holocaust and in supposed opposition to German nationalism, the Anti-German movement aimed to infiltrate leftist anti-fascist circles in order to promote unwavering support for the Israeli government and undermine traditional networks of leftist organizing. BAK Shalom’s manifesto pledges “solidarity with defense measures of any kind” against the Palestinians and backs American foreign policy on the basis of purely reactionary impulses: The US is Israel’s most aggressive patron and the ultimate target of Israel’s enemies, therefore opponents of “anti-Semitism” must lend it their total support.
  4. Abe
    January 22, 2016 at 3:17 am
    Turkey, a US and British ally, a NATO member since the 1950s, and allegedly a partner in the West’s “War on Terror,” was aiding and abetting, and in fact, serving as the primary source of ISIS’ fighting capacity while simultaneously feigning to fight the terrorist organization. […]
    If Turkey Created and Still Perpetuates ISIS, Why the Bombing?
    It is perhaps this need to portray Turkey at war with ISIS that leads us back to the deadly attack in Istanbul and other recent bombings like it attributed to “ISIS.” If ISIS appears to be carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey – Ankara, Washington, and Wall Street reason – few will suspect Turkey is in fact one of the primary state-sponsors perpetuating ISIS’ continued existence in Syria.
    If anyone questions Turkey’s willingness to self-inflict egregious terrorist attacks upon its own people within its own borders, one needs only study NATO’s extensive, decades-long operation of its various stay behind networks – including Turkey’s “Grey Wolves” terrorist organization that killed thousands in political violence and terrorism both within Turkey’s borders and well beyond them.
    To this day, the Grey Wolves remain engaged in violence, having attacked very publicly the Thai consulate in Istanbul, and having been linked to both terrorism in China’s Xinjiang region as well as having been implicated in a 2015 blast that rocked Bangkok and killed 20 people.
    Considering the hundreds of supply trucks a day departing Turkey, bound for ISIS’ defacto capital in Raqqa, and fleets of tankers filled with looted Syrian oil entering back into Turkey forming the cornerstone of ISIS’ logistical and financial networks, it is clear that if Raqqa is the heart of ISIS, Turkey’s role in running ISIS logistics serves as the arteries feeding that heart with the blood it needs to continue beating.
    If Turkey is blaming ISIS for the recent attack in Istanbul, then it is clear that it is in turn implicating itself. When asking why it would do that, the simplest answer stands to reason – because if people believe ISIS is attacking Turkey, they are less likely to believe Turkey is in fact backing ISIS. And as long as this charade can continue convincingly, that backing can continue until the goal of destroying Syria is achieved.
    Turkey: Bombing Its Way to a Better Narrative
    By Tony Cartalucci
  5. dahoit
    January 22, 2016 at 12:58 pm
    Why Germany has to pay for Zionist depredations,and its leader a stupid clod who lets her country be divided and conquered like America,is beyond comprehension.
    Schroeder was much better,an independent German who knew Iraq was the harbinger of European decline and collapse.
  6. J'hon Doe II
    January 22, 2016 at 6:09 pm
    • Abe
      January 22, 2016 at 6:41 pm
      The IMF just loooooves the “fiscal expansion that’s being carried out to provide for the refugees”. Tightens the noose.

Hard times for Merkel: Pressure builds over refugees

In the past six months, "We can do it" has been Angela Merkel's mantra on the refugee crisis. She will not budge from that standpoint, no matter how much pressure is mounting on her.

She has been chancellor for over 10 years and head of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), for over 15. She has seen government leaders throughout the world come and go. In May 2015, "Forbes" magazine named her most powerful woman in the world for the fifth consecutive year. She did indeed lead Europe in the EU's financial crisis and in the ensuing European debt gamble; there was no way of avoiding the German chancellor back then. And now?
Angela Merkel is now troubled, domestically and on a European level. How did things end up this way? Did the Chancellor misjudge the situation? "Europe as whole must take action; the states must take on responsibility for refugees seeking asylum," she demands, as she always has in the past. Yet the majority of EU states refuse to do so, despite the appeals. An attempt to share the burden has obviously failed and, with it, Angela Merkel's political plan.
Sweden, Austria and Germany were the states that have, until recently, taken in the greatest number of refugees . However, the Scandinavians and Austrians used the emergency brake and decided to restrict a further influx of people. And Germany? Merkel will not hear of a cap for migrants. She has argued that this cannot be achieved on a unilateral level and has also thought about the consequences: Must German tanks patrol the border and even shoot people who refuse to be sent away?
Merkel has always been successful with her objective and low-key approach to problems and the way she extensively analyzes them in order to find logical and transparent solutions. People say the physicist has no room for emotions. Yet, last summer, when a growing number of Germans got involved in refugee support measures and a "welcome culture" until then unseen in the country was spreading, it seemed that the chancellor had infected the people with her enthusiasm. "Germany is a strong country," she said. "We can do it."
September 5 and beyond
The chancellor would lose credibility were she to change her mind about that decision. At the same time, Merkel was aware early on that the arrival of large numbers of refugees could not be compared to any political challenge in recent times; it was a historical turning point. According to estimates, last summer 800,000 refugees were expected to arrive in Germany. "We stand before a huge national challenge that will be a central challenge - not only for days or months, but for a long period of time," she said.
Did the Chancellor already know that in five days, she would do what critics still rebuke her for?
Praise poured in for the German government, and especially Merkel, through social networks. She was immediately idolized and called "Mother of all believers" because she had "invited" Syrians to Germany and welcomed them with open arms. And, indeed, the next day many Germans were waiting to warmly welcome the refugees in places like Munich's central train station. Images of the volunteers quickly spread around the world but the Bavarian State Premier Horst Seehofer was grumbling that Merkel had made a mistake.
That marked the beginning of a political conflict that has made Merkel look much weaker than she would were her own party to stand behind her united. Seehofer's Christian Social Union is the Bavarian sibling of Merkel's CDU, and the two parties work together on a national level. The CSU's open disapproval upset Merkel, and she responded by saying that "if we now have to start apologizing for showing a friendly face in response to emergency situations, then that's not my country."
Ever since then, the two camps have become entrenched in their positions and no one has budged. The CSU, however, still has the strength to continue criticizing Merkel's refugee policies. The only difference now, compared to in autumn, is that the CSU has developed concrete proposals, such as not allowing more than 200,000 refugees to enter the country. Merkel's own party has also found advocates of such a cap.
But Merkel perseveres. At the CSU congress on January 20, the party expressed its disappointment over her lack of compliance. The CSU is now threatening to bring proceedings before Germany's Constitutional Court to allow border patrols. Merkel has until March to change her position. If she does not act, the CSU could, as a consequence, terminate the coalition with the CDU and then exit the government. Then, Merkel would no longer be chancellor.
Is Angela Merkel left with only with a choice between power and loss of face? Or will there be a European solution? Right now, no one has answers to these questions.

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