It has long been widely accepted across Europe, and the world for that matter, that the stability of the German government is guaranteed. In the past two days this presumption has evaporated. Contrary to the beliefs of millions in the EU and beyond, Germany’s government is not invulnerable to disorganized change. Although Angela Merkel and her party emerged as the winners in Germany’s latest round of federal elections, the victory was a pyrrhic one. Gains made by her Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) were not enough to form a majority government. Merkel’s subsequent efforts to form a coalition have failed. Ruling as the minority party is not a viable option because of the instability it could bring. Therefore, new elections will probably be in the cards for Germany, and not until February at the earliest. Between now and the new elections, Germany’s current government will assume a caretaker status. The beacon of stability that Germany has been in times of political unrest could quite possibly be coming to an end.
The spectacle of Angela Merkel having to reach out to political parties of very different ideologies in order to form a coalition speaks volumes of the new political realities encroaching upon the Federal Republic of Germany. Merkel’s handling of the European Migrant Crisis, the liberal immigration policies she put into place for Germany, and the consequences of both have played a major role in creating the wave of populism that has swept across Europe. Most of Germany’s neighbors in Central Europe are now leaning right politically. The European Union has looked to Berlin for inspiration and leadership as the continent becomes increasingly polarized. More specifically, the EU has relied on Merkel for inspiration and leadership. But now, with Merkel weakened politically, and her days as chancellor perhaps numbered, Germany will not be playing an active role in the supranational body. The end result could very well be a paralyzed EU.
Since taking power in 2005 Angela Merkel has been Germany and vice versa. As Germany goes, so does Europe. They now face a future where this is no longer the case. Supporters of the EU must be horrified at the idea of losing the leader they considered to be their bulwark of democratic stability, and firewall against populism. In Germany, the realization is no less frightening. For a nation where in ordnung is a way of life, the notion of political chaos is nothing short of a nightmare.
Authors note: I was planning to look at the Saudi Arabia and Iran confrontation in-depth over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. However, I am going to shelve that for the moment and instead post a detailed entry about the German political crisis and what it means for Europe.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reelected to her fourth term in office yesterday as federal elections were held across Germany. Her victory appears to be pyrrhic, however. Her Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) garnered only 33% of the vote and will be allotted 246 seats in the Bundestag. Even though these numbers represent the largest share of the vote it will not be enough to form a majority government. To complicate matters even more, the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party’s share of the vote was 13% and it will hold 94 seats in the Bundestag. This is especially staggering since before yesterday AfD held no seats. Now it is the third largest political party in Germany.
Merkel’s victory speech was muted. She stated that she’d expected and hoped for a ‘better result’ indicating she understands completely how murky the election results are for her and her party. The Bild, a German tabloid, labeled it a ‘nightmare victory’ and financial markets have responded negatively to the election results. The euro is currently down against the dollar and investors could be getting antsy at the prospect of a convoluted political future for Germany. The German Chancellor now has to form a coalition government with smaller parties, or attempt to run a minority government. A minority government is the least likely scenario seeing how German politics are driven by consensus and always have been since the end of World War II.
Merkel’s power will be severely eroded by yesterday’s results. She’ll be left walking a fine line between the quicksand traps of policy uncertainty and an unstable government. If she loses her balance and either one become a reality, early elections will likely be called, signaling the end of the Merkel era.
To the surprise of many political observers, the populist wave that was rolling across Europe in 2016 and early 2017 and appeared to dissipate when Emanuel Macron claimed victory in the French elections earlier this year, came to life yesterday. Anti-immigration sentiment in Germany is high, and many voters are tired of Merkel lecturing them that it is Germany’s ‘duty’ to take in hundreds of thousands of Syrian immigrants. Crime has spiked in the Federal Republic over the past twelve months, and across Europe terrorist attacks are on the rise. These actions have convinced many German voters that a change is necessary.
Germany’s ‘Trump Moment’ came yesterday. It arrived not in the form of a Brexit-like tsunami, but instead, like a thief in the night. And it could very well be the beginning of the end for Angela Merkel’s rule.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered her nation’s participation in future negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program. She took her comments a step farther by suggesting that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran would make an excellent model for negotiations. Merkel’s intervention come at a point when she is in the midst of a reelection campaign. Even though she is widely expected to win, campaign season is traditionally a time for incumbent leaders to take the opportunity to float ideas by their constituents, as well as their neighbors and allies to see how they might play in Stuttgart or Brussels.
President Trump’s handling of the North Korea crisis has unsettled some of Washington’s European allies. For a continent that became used to the less proactive foreign policy approach of Trump’s predecessor this is understandable. During the Obama years, US policy towards states like Iran, and North Korea were centered around multi-party negotiations, and the threat of economic sanctions. A stringent effort was made to avoid discussing potential military options if the terms of any future agreement was violated. Trump’s approach is different in many respects, most notably when it comes to discussing military options. He has made it clear that the United States will retaliate should North Korea launch a missile against US territory. Trump has also made it apparent that the military option is not off the table when it comes to ending North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Talk like this is horrifying to many Europeans, especially diplomats and leaders unaccustomed to such forward non-diplospeak on sensitive matters.
However, remarks by the leader of a US ally that champion the Iran nuclear deal as a success are equally as distressing to many Americans. Contrary to what the media spins on the subject of the Iran deal, the majority of Americans remain against it. Even if this were not the case, the North Korean situation has few parallels to Iran’s. Pyongyang already has nuclear weapons, and an ability to use them against targets located on US territory. The North has also directly threatened to use these weapons against the US should economic or political pressure damage its economy and nuclear program.
Merkel fails to recognize that future negotiations with North Korea will be destined to fail. Not because of what could be perceived as aggressive posturing by the United States, but because North Korea does not want them to succeed. Pyongyang’s main goal right now is to buy the time needed for its nuclear scientists, and ballistic missile engineers to produce a hydrogen device, and a missile that it can be fitted to respectively. Kim Jong Un is interested in nothing less.
Angela Merkel and Germany do not have a dog in this fight. For that matter, neither does Europe. North Korea is not levying threats on Western Europe, and likely will not be doing so in the near future. It is threatening the US on a daily basis and given the direction that the crisis is moving in, negotiations involving Germany or other European nations are not a viable avenue to explore at the moment.
France and Germany are calling for a ceasefire in the eastern Ukraine as fighting has flared up in the region this month. Following a conference call between French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the leaders of Ukraine and Russia, the two Western leaders released a statement calling for both sides to withdraw their forces from the disputed areas in the east. They also warned of an impending humanitarian catastrophe if conditions do not change soon. The German government claimed on Monday night that the four parties have agreed on a number of “immediate measures” in the conflict. If this translates to concrete action on the ground or not remains to be seen.
Fighting in the Ukraine conflict historically reaches a peak in ceasefire violations around late July and early August. This year appears to be no exception. In addition to the ceasefire violations, Kiev is claiming that additional Russian forces are arriving on its border. Ukrainian Chief of General Staff Viktor Muzhenko stated that Ukrainian forces have observed new activity on the Russian side of the border. Like the annual upsurge in fighting, Russian military activity near the border at this time of the year is nothing new.
The United States, by design, as well as coincidence, is playing a much more active role in this year’s Ukraine summer drama. The House is about to pass a new bill that will place many new sanctions on Russia for everything from its annexation of Crimea in 20014 to its attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election. At the same time, the new US envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker indicated that the White House is pondering sending arms to Kiev to increase the defensive capabilities of Ukrainian forces fighting in the east. As Russia has been openly sending weapons, and troops to assist the separatists fighting in the east, similar US assistance for Kiev is a balanced response. Volker does not believe Moscow would view the move as a provocation. The Obama administration had limited US assistance to non-lethal military aid, which translated mainly to training, and the replenishment of non-lethal supplies like MREs, and medical equipment. The Trump administration seems ready to change that dynamic.
*Authors note: Part 2 of the Case for Military Action Against North Korea will be posted on 1 August. I have not forgotten. 😊*
President Trump arrived in Hamburg a short while ago following a brief visit to Poland ahead of the G20 Summit scheduled to begin on 7 July in the northern German city. The president’s stay in Poland, while short, was productive and gave the world a preview of some talking points that he will likely bring up with other world leaders during the G20. The Poland visit also afforded us a glimpse at the evolving Trump foreign policy platform, and the geopolitical priorities for the United States. For the moment, North Korea’s ballistic missile progress tops the list.
Trump delivered an address in Poland before departing for Hamburg. In it, he reaffirmed the US commitment to NATO, and Article 5 but added that Europe does need to do more. He also railed against threats from radical Islamic terrorism, to Russia, and North Korea. Overall, the president sought to highlight the common ground between the US and Europe as a prelude to the G20 where the reception he receives could be markedly different from the warm, sincere greetings he received in Poland.
While Hamburg won’t be a politically hostile environment altogether for Trump, the environment could be rather chilly. Angela Merkel might be looking to seize the moment in Hamburg and attempt an ambush on him. With the EU locked in a dispute with Poland right now, the president’s visit there has undoubtedly ruffled some feathers in Brussels. Merkel, who’s personality differences with the American leader seem to be affecting her policy positions, will have the opportunity to sit vis-à-vis at the same table and hold constructive discussions. Or harangue him incessantly, if she chooses that route.
While speaking of vis-à-vis encounters, Trump and Vladimir Putin will be meeting for the first time ever at the event. The president will be walking a tightrope of not wanting to appear soft on the man who is widely believed to have orchestrated an attempt to influence a US election. With that, along with the issues flaring up between the US and Russia, Trump should be polite, yet firm.