Derek Scally: Germany’s difficulty could be Ireland’s opportunity

Under pressure both at home and abroad, Angela Merkel needs stable partners

A weekend poll for ‘Bild’ suggested public opinion has finally tipped against the Angela Merkel on the refugee question. Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP Photo

A weekend poll for ‘Bild’ suggested public opinion has finally tipped against the Angela Merkel on the refugee question. Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP Photo

 

When Simon Coveney visits Germany today, he arrives in a country that feels increasingly under siege.

More than a decade of relative political stability, steady growth and record employment has handed Germany unprecedented influence on the European and world stage; sometimes more than it knew what to do with.

But now a sinking feeling hangs over the summer garden parties in Berlin. And that could have a knock-on effect on the Government’s hopes for a strategic partnership with Germany.

Mr Coveney will use speeches in Munich and Berlin to explain Irish Brexit thinking and flag greater engagement: a new consulate in Frankfurt, increased ministerial exchange, an new bilateral business body and a boost in cultural spending. The aim? To give Ireland greater access to Europe’s largest power as it adjusts to new political and trade realities of an EU without the United Kingdom.

Europe – and Ireland – needs a stable Germany more than ever. But Germany, it appears, has other plans.

The pendulum of public opinion is swinging away from Dr Merkel, and a decade of disbelieving self-satisfaction swinging back to the default position: self-flaggelating “ Zukunftsangst ’’ – fear of the future.

Modest agreement

Donald Trump’s collapse of the modest G7 agreement by Tweet, another blow to the post-war order, has prompted Dr Merkel to call for greater EU unity on trade and foreign policy. Her call was motivated by national self-interest.

Tariffs on European steel and aluminium could cripple the backbone of the German economy: auto and industrial giants like VW, Daimler, BMW, Siemens, Bosch and many more.

And this while the legacy of diesel manipulation continues to swallow the attention – and capital – of German car giants. On Monday Daimler was the latest company to be hauled in by the Berlin government to explain engine irregularities.

While Germany’s key auto industry struggles, the competition doesn’t sleep: China stands ready to fill the electric car gap that the German firms are struggling to meet.

Director of elections Simon Coveney: “People recognised that Ireland needed to change.” Photograph: EPA
"Simon Coveney will use speeches in Munich and Berlin to explain Irish Brexit thinking and flag greater engagement: a new consulate in Frankfurt, increased ministerial exchange, an new bilateral business body and a boost in cultural spending." File photograph: EPA

Deutsche Bank, once Germany’s calling card in international financial circles, is under attack by US authorities.

While many Germans feel the world outside is turning against them, public opinion inside Germany appears to be turning on the chancellor

Some here see a US conspiracy against their blue chip businesses, happily overlooking how crooked practices at VW and Deutsche Bank provided the sticks to beat them with.

They overlook, too, how not everyone in Europe will be sorry if Trump tactics reduces what they see as Germany’s damaging trade surplus.

While many Germans feel the world outside is turning against them, public opinion inside Germany appears to be turning on the chancellor.

After an inconclusive election, and a staggering six months of coalition negotiations, her fourth-term government is struggling to find its feet after three months.

While her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partner is as weak as ever, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is working hard to fan a separate refugee crisis blaze into a raging conflagration.

Amid an investigation into alleged corruption at regional asylum offices, Dr Merkel’s team is working flat-out to keep from her a politically explosive scandal.

Meanwhile, public opinion on asylum is darkening after the shocking rape-murder of a 14 year-old German-Jewish girl. The lead suspect: a 20-year-old Iraqi man, still in Germany after his asylum application was rejected.

German chancellor Angela Merkel attends a news conference after an EU summit n Bratislava, Slovakia. Photograph: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters
"A weekend poll for Bild, by the Emnid agency, suggested public opinion has finally tipped against German leader Angela Merkel on the refugee question." File photograph: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

The influential Bild tabloid has pounced, dubbing the lead suspect as the girl’s “murderer” and pinning blame personally on Dr Merkel .

A weekend poll for Bild, by the Emnid agency, suggested public opinion has finally tipped against the German leader on the refugee question.

Under threat

Asked if they trusted Dr Merkel’s policies, 49 per cent said no. Days earlier another Bild poll claimed one in three Germans feel their “homeland” is under threat from refugees and asylum seekers.

Sensing disaster, Dr Merkel’s federal interior minister Horst Seehofer is playing his own game. With his Bavarian CSU allies facing an autumn state election, he will today announce even tougher asylum regulations to appease conservative voters.

If like-minded Europeans cannot hold together now, a leading Merkel ally warned last week, Europe will be 'picked apart' by growing head winds

The Bavarians have allied themselves against Dr Merkel and with Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who will use a Berlin visit this week to press his own tough asylum line – a preview of Austria’s six-month EU presidency from July.

Last week in Munich, Dr Merkel conceded defeat in her battle for an EU asylum distribution quota and called instead “flexible solidarity”, a term favoured by Hungarian asylum hardliner Viktor Orban.

With Donald Trump laying waste to postwar certainties, and French president Emmaneual Macron driving the EU reform debate, Der Spiegel magazine argues the Merkel method – sitting things out until a last-minute compromise – “has exhausted itself because ... her room to manoeuvre has grown too small”.

More than ever, Merkel’s Germany needs stable EU partners to drive trade, defence and EU reform debates. That is the opportunity available to Ireland – if it is ready to grasp it.

Because if like-minded Europeans cannot hold together now, a leading Merkel ally warned last week, Europe will be “picked apart” by growing head winds. And, with it, Angela Merkel’s political legacy.

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