This has not been a good week for world leaders who’ve overstayed their welcome. Robert Mugabe had to be effectively woken-up in order to be notified he’d been overthrown by a military coup; and Angela Merkel’s twelve-year reign as German Chancellor seems less secure now than it has at any time since her rise to power. Not that you’d know it from her body language, however; with the characteristic arrogance that has become a hallmark of the institution Frau Merkel sponsors – the EU – Germany’s figurehead is carrying on regardless. Her party achieved its lowest share of the popular vote since 1949 in September’s Federal Election and a Government still hasn’t been formed, yet Merkel’s failure to cobble together a coalition from the chaos appears to be a mere storm in a democratic teacup to a woman whose dominance of German politics in the post-war era can only be matched by that of her one-time mentor, the late Helmut Kohl.
One thing you can say in Tony Blair’s favour (okay, I realise that’s not easy) is that he timed his exit at precisely the right moment, just on the cusp of an imminent economic crash he left his hapless successor to deal with. He didn’t wait to be pushed; he jumped. For politicians with a decade or more as top man to their name, such second-sense skills are rare. After that long in power, the talent that propelled them to the pinnacle is usually numbed by a notion of unassailable invincibility that generally tends to constitute their downfall; Mrs T inevitably springs to mind. One wonders if Angela Merkel has finally reached the point in 2017 that Maggie reached in 1990.
Theresa May’s unconvincing assertion that she intends to go ‘on and on’ a few months back was either a grandiose act of self-delusion on the part of the PM or Central Office propaganda that few of even her most devoted insiders swallowed without coughing-up again seconds later. When it comes to her counterpart in Central Europe, however, I have little doubt Merkel herself is a serious subscriber to her own political immortality. September’s abysmal election result, especially following the historic landslide victory of four years before, doesn’t seem to have dented Merkel’s conviction that nobody else is capable of controlling her country, and she’s prepared to go back to the German electorate if need be to ensure her survival after the collapse of coalition negotiations.
At a time when many Western Governments were practising understandable caution when it came to relaxing their immigration rules for admitting Syrian refugees, Merkel embarked upon a grandstand gesture in the wake of 2015’s European migrant crisis that masked the motivation behind the opening of Germany’s gates – i.e. the fact that the nation has an ageing population and too many jobs for too few young natives to fill. The plaudits she received beyond Germany for the publicised arrival of people fleeing Middle Eastern and African war zones also conveniently contradicted Merkel’s own opinions on multiculturalism, expressed in 2010. Addressing the youth wing of her Christian Democratic Union party, Merkel said attempts to construct a multicultural society in Germany had failed. ‘The concept that we are now living side-by-side and are happy about it does not work’, she said, before going on to emphasise immigrants should integrate and adopt German values, something she evidently believed they hadn’t up to that point.
Seven years later, Merkel’s previous beliefs were ironically expanded by the right-wing party Alternative for Germany in the Federal Election, claiming 94 seats in the Bundestag and making AfG the third largest party. Needless to say, Merkel is not looking to form a coalition with them. Up until AfG’s success in September’s Federal Election, they were led by Frauke Petry; but Frau Petry, whose views are far-from ‘moderate’, nevertheless announced she would sit in the Bundestag as an independent for fear of her political career being tarred with the kind of extremist far-right brush parties such as AfG invariably attract. The surge of support for AfG, however, undoubtedly represents the first real electoral backlash against the policies Merkel has pursued on immigration in the last few years; and as someone so closely associated with the EU, Merkel for many represents a strain of European politician whose pursuance of economic, social and racial integration between nations overrides concerns for home-grown natives left behind by the great Brussels gravy-train.
The success of such a project is rarely judged on the impact it has on those directly affected by it, anyway. An arch-advocate of the EU, Angela Merkel is as detached from the mindset that propelled AfG to such a strong showing in the Federal Election as one or two of our own broadsheet ‘cultural commentators’ are from some of the less-publicised negative effects that EU membership has had on Britain – mainly because they largely reside in wealthy, all-white neighbourhoods in which Eastern European immigrants have a fixed and lowly subservient role as au-pairs and nannies, glorified coolies for the post-imperial nouveau-riche, representing no threat to the position of those who employ them. As a ‘Question Time’ audience member recently memorably observed, who will serve us our café lattes in the event of an open-door policy being abandoned courtesy of Brexit?
Angela Merkel is no idiot; she is perhaps the most skilful professional politician of the past decade, one who has used her considerable talents to keep herself at the top of the tree whilst so many of her contemporaries and counterparts – Sarkozy, Cameron, Berlusconi et al – have fallen by the wayside. Yet even the greatest of political sagas has to have an end as well as a beginning and a middle. Merkel’s journey from the GDR has been one of the stories of our times; but nothing lasts forever, as Echo and the Bunnymen once said, and it’s hard to avoid the feeling that another one of this year’s Ms – along with May and Mugabe – is reaching the end of the road. What that might mean for Germany, for Europe, and for the EU, is too early to say; but maybe we’ll find out if the Germans are poised to go to the polls again before 2017 is out.
© The Editor