Saturday, June 16, 2018

Is the Merkel Era Ending in Germany?

Perhaps it has nothing to do with President Trump, but Germany seems poised to turn away from the Merkel open-arms immigration policy and toward the Eastern European closed borders policy.

While learned commentators on this side of the Atlantic have been bewailing Trump’s difficulty in getting along with Merkel, it seems that Merkel’s governing coalition is disintegrating. The cause, her very own Interior Ministry, Horst Seehofer, has declared that, Merkel or no Merkel, he will start closing Germany’s borders.

The story has been widely reported. I will give you the New York Times account. It is comprehensive and well-written, but it shows that a beacon of the American left gets it. Gets what, you may ask. Gets the fact that the Merkel policy, a policy promoted by our own citizen of the world, President Obama, is about to enter the dustbin of history. The only question is whether the policy or Germany will fall apart first.

The Times reports:

The populist surge that has left Hungary, Austria and Italy threatening to close their borders to migrants has now spread to Germany, where it could even bring down Chancellor Angela Merkel and further unhinge Europe Union’s cohesion and stability.

In recent days, Ms. Merkel has faced an increasingly virulent mutiny over the issue, which threatens to fracture her governing coalition as early as next week.

The mutiny is led by her own interior minister, Horst Seehofer, a former Bavarian premier with a towering stature and plenty of beer-tent charisma, who sounds more in line with the nativist forces shaping politics in neighboring countries than with his own boss.

His region found itself on the front line of the refugee crisis in 2015, when Ms. Merkel opened the borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants who poured into Bavaria. He has long been an outspoken critic of her decision, and in recent days the two leaders have been locked in a standoff.

Merkel has been blocking Seehofer’s plan:

Like Europe’s more hard-line politicians on the right, Mr. Seehofer wants Germany to turn back at the border migrants who have no papers or who are already registered in another European country.

Ms. Merkel has blocked the proposal because it would defy Europe’s open-border agreement; place an even greater burden on southern European countries, often the first ones to register migrants; and risk widening the already gaping divisions in the European Union.

From whence cometh the reaction:

The Bavarian revolt, coming as the region is preparing for state elections in October, has now provided a powerful glimpse of the groundswell of nativist anger that is building even in the richest parts of Europe’s richest country.

“The Bavarian conservatives are closing ranks with Europe’s populists,” said Andrea Römmele, a professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. “This is serious. It’s pure populism.”

The decision to open Germany’s borders to more than 1.4 million migrants has politically haunted the chancellor. Opposition to the decision buoyed the far-right in elections last year, leaving a weakened Ms. Merkel to struggle for six months to form a governing coalition.

Part of the price for the support of the conservative, Bavaria-based Christian Social Union was having Mr. Seehofer in the powerful position he now holds.

Tension between the two leaders have steadily built. In March, Mr. Seehofer stirred controversy when he declared that “Islam does not belong to Germany,” only to be contradicted by Ms. Merkel.

Ms. Merkel wants to find a European solution to the migration issue at a summit meeting of the 28-country bloc in two weeks. “It is an issue that we must resolve at a European level,” Ms. Merkel said this week. “That is very important to me.”

But Mr. Seehofer is not budging.

Seehofer’s Christian Social Union, a center right party, has been losing support to the far right Alternative for Germany, the AfD. He has his back against the wall, and has acted accordingly:

In a spectacular gesture of defiance, Mr. Seehofer has given Ms. Merkel an ultimatum: If she does not agree to the measure, he will carry it out against her will.

The implication is that the border police in Bavaria, the main gateway into Germany for migrants, could start turning them back at the border as early as next week.

It is the most direct challenge to Ms. Merkel’s authority yet — and to the values her chancellorship has embodied.

For Mr. Seehofer, turning migrants back at the border has become a symbol of re-establishing control. For Ms. Merkel, keeping the border open is the last remaining symbol of her liberal migration policy.

“Asylum tourism must end,” said Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier, using language frequently used by populists to describe the influx of refugees. His government has recently passed a hard-line police reform measure that restricts civil liberties, and has floated the idea of a Bavarian border force — although Bavaria borders only fellow European Union member states.

The question for Germany is whether Merkel’s governing coalition can survive. The larger question is whether Germany can survive. At the least, it appears that the Obama/Merkel cosmopolitanism is dead and awaiting burial.

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