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The Fall of a Giant: The End of Angela Merkel?

Angela Merkel looks on (Source: The Guardian)
Angela Merkel looks on. Source: Time.com
Angela Merkel looks on. Source: Time.com

Within the past eleven years Italy and Britain have seen four different Prime Ministers and the US are about to elect their third president. What about Germany? They’ve only had one leader.

The seemingly unmovable Angela Merkel has presided over a flourishing Germany and exerted her nation’s influence in Europe. She has steered Germans and Europeans through the financial crash, diplomatic disasters and military interventions. However, she is now faced with a mixture of dangerous events which threatens to topple her once immovable position.

German Democracy

German politics is boring for an obvious reason. Politicians are often expected to be sensible, calm and generally middle of the road. While no one party gains a majority every election, even down to the smallest council, they will end up in some sort of coalition that very rarely falls apart. Stability is very common in German politics. There is only a singular one-term Chancellor in modern German history. However, there are only two Chancellors who have lasted longer than Mrs Merkel. These are Konrad Adaneur, the first Chancellor after Hitler who steered what was then West Germany toward prosperity, and Helmut Kohl, who oversaw German reunification in 1989. The obvious question that must be asked: does Mrs Merkel deserve to stand amongst these giants?

However, perhaps the more interesting question to ask would be, does Chancellor Merkel have a right to be in government at all? As alluded to previously, German politics is based around coalitions. Chancellor Merkel has actually built two of her three governments by creating a coalition with the second largest party in Germany, displaying a complete mockery of the democratic system. If the Conservative and Labour parties in the UK joined together, for any reason other than a serious national threat, there would be riots in the street. Before Merkel, the last time a German Chancellor bravely tried to build this type of coalition was in 1966 which led to a large student protest movement that caused riots and terrorism. However, Chancellor Merkel seems to have made this work.

AfD and Migration

Or has she? Last year Europe watched in shock as Chancellor Merkel told the world that refugees were welcome in Germany. What followed was extraordinary. Refugees from around the world did whatever they could do get to Germany. Nearly 1.1 million refugees were registered in a country with a population of 80 million. In what was, at the time, a highly commended action the German people gathered in the streets cheering the refugees into the country.

A year later and it is a very different story. Whisper it quietly but many Germans are discontent. Opinion polls show the right wing AfD at 12% of the popular vote. While this does not seem like a lot, we must remember that this is a country in which flag waving is seen as too nationalistic. The lack of a political party that does not provide an opposition to Chancellor Merkel had led many disillusioned voters into the arms of a newborn rightwing party.

So what now?

All this does not mean that flag waving Germans are going to take to the streets demanding the expulsion of the refugees en masse. Rather, they are voicing their displeasure in a very German way. Around two-thirds of participants recently stated that they do not want Chancellor Merkel to run for a fourth term in a recent INSA poll. Moreover, Germans are sending major messages to the mainstream parties in state elections with the biggest display of this being in Berlin. The three main parties (CDU, SPD and Green) saw their vote share siphoned by the Left, AfD and FDP (liberal party).

Brexit: Foreshadowing?

One of Chancellor Merkel’s saving graces was always the EU. Very few leaders have managed to dominate and steer the EU like she did. Having managed to get the EU to agree to save the economies of the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) it would have been easy to think that she could have stopped the loss of Britain from the Union. However, in what may be ominous foreshadowing for the German election of 2017, she completely misjudged the resolve of the British public. The failure of the political establishment and EU, and by extension Chancellor Merkel, to placate the concerns of British public meant that we saw one of the biggest political shocks in Europe since the fall of the USSR.

The question is, will she dismiss the concerns of Germans as “simple nationalism” like many did over the concern of the British during the Brexit campaign? Or will she manage to maintain the incredible control she has had in Germany for the past ten years? Whatever happens, German democracy might just be about to get a short-term shot of excitement.