Angela Merkel remains the vital voice in Europe

Accumulation of crisis issues puts her leadership in question for a growing number of critics, especially her progressive open door and burden sharing policy on refugees

 

Angela Merkel has returned from holidays to face a formidable political agenda at home and in Europe. She is the leading political figure in both settings, having dominated agenda-setting and decision-making in recent times.

But the accumulation of crisis issues over the past year puts her leadership in question for a growing number of critics, especially her progressive open door and burden sharing policy on refugees.

They question and increasingly resist her judgment and ask how long she should or can survive as leader of the German Christian Democrats (CDU), her power base as chancellor.

As a proverbially canny and cautious politician Dr Merkel is well aware of these difficulties, but is certainly not overwhelmed by them. Polling shows a sharp drop in satisfaction with her among the general electorate, with a majority against her refugee policy.

A recent Forsa poll showed support for her CDU, still the biggest group, had fallen to 33 per cent, down eight points from a year ago. The anti-immigrant Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) rose to 12 per cent, their second-highest level this year.

However she is overwhelmingly endorsed by CDU voters. Party activists are worried by the growing strength of the right-wing populist AfD, and look anxiously to forthcoming lander elections. They expect her to announce at the CDU congress in December whether she will stand as party leader in next autumn’s federal elections. She brushes off suggestions this will be too late. But there is much to achieve between now and then if she wants to be sure of the nomination.

In interviews she admits making some mistakes with the refugee policy while defending its overall thrust and her faith that Germans can handle it. Her policy is underwritten by the EU agreement with Turkey which limits the flow of people but looks more and more frayed. It depends too on wider co-operation from central and eastern European EU members who are vehemently opposed to proportionate sharing of refugees, as Mrs Merkel discovered in discussions last month.

So domestic and European policies are entangled on this issue – and the same applies to other pressing issues like the euro. She is convinced its survival is essential for Germany and Europe but much slower to realise that will require greater commitment of German resources to ensure that happens.

The future shape of European integration is at stake in these discussions and decisions. Like other leaders under pressure from populist parties and facing elections she is politically constrained in proposing institutional or treaty change.

There is little indication she feels frustrated or tired by this and many more that she wants to continue in office. Alternatives are scarce and equivalent competence ever rarer. It is to be hoped she is willing to stay the course and stand again.

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