Since 2015, Angela Merkel’s political fortunes have been incontrovertibly tied to Europe’s migrant crisis and the immigration issue. Germany’s open border migration laws have seen 1.4 million refugees from the Middle East and Africa accepted in the last three years. This mass influx has led to a decline in Merkel’s political clout at home and abroad. As more refugees crossed into Germany with very little oversight or restriction, crime rates rose dramatically. Terror attacks sprouted up across the Federal Republic. Populist parties emerged from the political wilderness and began gaining acceptance in the mainstream with their anti-immigration positions. Germany’s federal elections in September, 2017 saw German voters turning away from Merkel’s CDU/CSU coalition and gravitating towards parties such as Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other Euroskeptic populist parties. The gains made by these upstart parties in the Bundestag forced Merkel to form a larger, more inclusive coalition government.
At the moment, the conservative partners in Germany’s current coalition government are threatening Angela Merkel’s political future.
On Monday, the conservatives gave Merkel a two-week ultimatum to either reform immigration and asylum laws, or turn migrants away at the border. Germany’s Minister of Interior Horst Seehofer, is leading the charge. Seehofer stated that if no solution is reached by the end of the month, he will personally order German border police to turn back migrants. If no resolution is found, Germany could see itself in the midst of yet another political crisis, and Merkel will be fighting for her political life.
Holding true to her modus operandi, Merkel is turning to the European Union for help. EU heads of state will meet in Brussels at the end of June and immigration will be a hot topic. Merkel is already pressing for a ‘European solution,’ either in the form of a continent-wide immigration policy, or convincing other EU member-states to take in more migrants. With more populist governments taking power in Europe recently, few nations will probably be receptive to the idea of accepting more migrants, and refugees. The new third-rail in European politics seems to be immigration. Continental leaders who agree to raise the number of immigrants their respective nations will accept are running a dangerous risk. Contrary to what many media outlets, or the European Union would say, the mood in Europe right now is decidedly anti-immigration.
Merkel has learned this the hard way.
Not surprisingly, the new Italian government’s calls for debt relief from the European Central Bank (ECB) appear to be falling upon deaf ears. The ECB has released a statement saying current treaties in place forbid such a move. German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out the possibility. In an interview published today in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung Merkel said the eurozone should not be transformed into a ‘debt union.’ These dismissals set the stage for a potential showdown between the EU and Italy’s populist government over the future of Italy’s place in the eurozone. Giuseppe Conte, the new Italian prime minister, is expected to meet with Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron at this week’s G7 summit in Canada.
Italy will not be the only major point of discussion in Quebec later this week. US trade tariffs, and their potential impact will be discussed at length. At midnight on Friday tariffs on steel, and aluminum imports from the EU, Canada, and Mexico were put into effect. The US has been negotiating with all parties involved. Progress has been slow in coming, however, prompting the US to take unilateral action. The EU has promised strong countermeasures in response.
Fears of a global trade war have been looming for some time. Negotiations between the US and China appeared to have pushed much of the concern to the background for some time. Markets had stabilized, and investors seemed to be getting over their jitters. If the EU, Canada, and Mexico are unable to reach some sort of compromise with the US this week, those fears could spiral out of control and have an adverse effect on global markets, and the global economy as a whole.
This promises to be a busy upcoming week in Quebec.
Here we go again. A political crisis in a European Union member-nation is pushing the supranational body into deep panic mode. If this were not enough, the Italian political situation is also bringing about a fresh round of global economic anxiety. There is growing concern around the world that the current situation could potentially threaten the global economy and spark a financial crisis greater in scope than the one the world endured from 2007 to 2009. Running parallel to this unease is the fear that Italy’s political ‘turmoil’ could lead to a permanent weakening of the European Union, and possibly the end of the euro.
In Rome, two anti-establishment parties have failed to form a government after months of negotiations. General elections will take place over the summer, most likely. It is probable that the Italian government will be headed by a populist party following those future elections. A major populist victory in Italy could be the death knell for the EU. Populism has been gaining ground across Europe since Brexit and the Trump victory in the United States, and Brussels has been unable to effectively quell, or challenge it. Eastern and Central Europe are becoming solid bastions of populist governments. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s power has been sapped following the surprising results of the general elections in September, 2017. Although she has managed to form a coalition government, it resembles a house of cards. The German chancellor’s influence in Europe has dropped considerably since then. In the midst of this emerging Italian crisis, Merkel announced she would be willing to work with any coalition government that emerges in Rome, but discussions on economic policy would have to take place within the guidelines governing the euro zone. If Italy forms a stable, pro-European government in the coming months, Merkel’s advice will no doubt be heeded.
Should the opposite happen, and an anti-establishment government comes to power, all bets are off. Merkel’s warnings will be ignored and there’s a good chance the next Italian government will begin moving towards an imminent exit from the EU. What must be remembered is that Italy went from being pro-EU to anti-EU in a very short time period. The reason is the immigration crisis, and EU’s handling of it. The last elections in Italy were all about immigration. Anti-immigration, and anti-EU sentiment were unleashed at the polls.
Even with its political future somewhat murky, the odds are that the anti-EU sentiment in Italy is not going to dissipate soon. If the EU cannot change this, it will face an even greater crisis in the months to come.
Vladimir Putin sailed to victory in Russia’s presidential election on Sunday. He secured a fourth term in office with 77% of the vote. The result was hardly a surprise. Putin’s grip on power in Russia is ironclad and he faced no serious challengers in the campaign. The election was hardly fair, by Western standards, and has been described by some people as a sham. Even Edward Snowden was critical of the election results in his adopted homeland. It will be interesting to see how the Kremlin reacts to his criticism.
As tradition dictates, many world leaders have sent formal congratulations, and spoke of desires to work together with Moscow on common issues. Behind the polite façade of diplospeak, there is less of a consensus about Putin and future relations with Russia. In Europe, many leaders and political parties are wary of Russia’s ambitions, and view Putin as a growing threat. Nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, or under the thumb of Moscow during the Cold War make up the bulk of this group. Other European nations, mainly EU member-states in Central and Western Europe, are less critical. From Brussels to Berlin the priority has been to repair relations between Russia and the West. Germany has led the repair effort in recent years, though Angela Merkel has little to show for it. EU sanctions against Russia remain in place but they have not persuaded Putin to cooperate on the Ukrainian issue or any of the other matters simmering between Russia and the West.
The current diplomatic crisis between Russia and the United Kingdom over the use of a nerve agent against a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil will affect relations between Europe and Russia in one form or another. The EU is standing beside Britain in calls for Russia to disclose its development of Novichok, the agent used. The United States joined the leaders of France, Great Britain, and Germany in condemning the use of a nerve agent on British soil, and agreeing Russia was the party responsible for the attack. London expelled 23 Russian diplomats and Moscow mirrored the move a short time afterward, expelling 23 British diplomats from Russia. Tensions remain high, with Russia denying it had anything to do with the attack.
With the election behind him now, Putin might be looking to use the crisis with England to his advantage. Russia could use a victory of some type. In Syria, and Russia it appears to be mired in military and diplomatic stalemate, with no change in sight. It’s unclear exactly how Putin can turn the current issue to his advantage, but if anyone can bring it about, it’s him.
Angela Merkel has her coalition. The Social Democrats voted in favor of forming a new government along with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union conservatives. Merkel will stay in the chancellery in Berlin, and political stability is set to return to Germany, at least for the moment. Forming a coalition after months of deadlock is assuredly a victory for her, though the scope and magnitude of it is up for debate. During the next few months, Merkel needs to tread carefully. One errant slip can turn it into a Pyrrhic victory and then the coalition becomes an albatross around her neck.
Make no mistake about it, Merkel has her work cut out for her. In spite of the grandiose proclamations of a ‘Grand Coalition,’ the government that has been put together more accurately resembles a diminished coalition at best. Germany was rattled by the political paralysis that followed the September elections, leaving many to wonder if the nation will ever be the same again. Support for the coalition is dropping, according to polls. At the same time, the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is building momentum. AfD is also setting itself up to be the main opposition party in parliament, raising the prospect of a clash with the new government somewhere down the line.
Merkel has promised to place more focus on domestic issues, though this might be a matter of too little, too late. Immigration is what brought Merkel and Germany to this point. The clumsy way she went about opening of Germany’s borders to the migrants is what caused German voters to turn on their chancellor. Merkel finds herself having to make amends, and possibly even give some of the new government’s positions and policies a slight tilt to the right. Last week she openly admitted that there are no-go zones in Germany after vehemently denying their existence for years. There are reports that Germany could even be seeking a reset in its relations with the United States. It’s a well-known truth that Merkel’s relationship with President Trump has been cool to say the very least.
The fact that she is making these moves now, and that Germany finds itself in this position shows the clout that right wing political parties, and populist movements now hold in Germany.