Angela Merkel’s challenge

It is hard now to remember a time when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was not in the thick of a political storm in Europe. However, Monday’s suspected terror strike in Berlin that claimed at least 12 lives along with a spate of incidents in July, all with a bearing on Germany’s liberal immigration policies, present a qualitatively different challenge to Europe’s most powerful politician. As she seeks election for a fourth term next September, Ms. Merkel’s political and diplomatic acumen could be put to the toughest test yet in a world still coming to grips with the implications of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union (EU) and the U.S. presidential election result. Her measured approach to the deepening debt crisis in the eurozone saw her being pilloried by some of her conservative colleagues as indulgence of a profligate Greece, even as the German-backed multilateral mission that negotiated the bailouts was greeted by angry Greek protesters carrying placards bearing the swastika. But the Chancellor, seen hitherto as cautious if not indecisive, was spontaneous and firm in her response to the tragic drowning of many Syrians at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015. Her open-hearted open-doors policy towards the hundreds of thousands who managed to cross the choppy waters of the Mediterranean, describing Islam as integral to Germany, may have alienated even some of her closest European allies.

Paradoxically, Ms. Merkel’s continued leadership of the 28-nation EU seems ever more critical given the rise of xenophobic and anti-immigrant forces across the continent. Matters are not helped by the fluid political scenario in the other staunchly integrationist founder-member of the EU, France, which is headed for presidential election in 2017. The prospects of Ms. Merkel rallying the forces of the political centre at home will depend on her capacity to counter the populist Alternative for Germany party, anxious to cash in on tragedies such as the Berlin attack. As for the European and international stage, there are clear signs of the Chancellor’s moderate political instincts to uphold the values of a pluralistic democracy underpinned by the rule of law. In a letter she wrote to congratulate Donald Trump, Ms. Merkel remained unequivocal. Among the values Germany and the U.S. shared, she wrote, were “democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person regardless of their origin, skin colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation or political views.” It is hardly surprising that Ms. Merkel’s views resonate across the Atlantic alliance, and much beyond.

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Printable version | Oct 3, 2022 8:30:58 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Angela-Merkel%E2%80%99s-challenge/article16913531.ece