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.
The shadow of the European Migrant Crisis continues to loom over the continent with its influence being felt in social circles, economic matters, and most prevalently, in domestic politics. The waves of refugees from Syria and North Africa, coupled with the rash of terror attacks in recent years is reshaping the political landscape of Europe. These events are the catalyst that has brought a number of right wing political parties in from the wilderness and placed them in political mainstreams of many European nations. Electorates from Warsaw to Central Europe are shifting right. Even Germany has not been immune from the shift. In last month’s election, Alternative for Germany, a right wing party, made significant gains, a precursor that a new political reality could very well be on the horizon for the central and eastern areas of the continent.
Now it’s Austria’s turn. On Sunday the conservative People’s Party staged a political upset in snap parliamentary elections. The party’s leader, 31 year old current foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, is expected to be chosen by Austria’s president to form a new government once the results are finalized. The People’s Party captured 31.4 percent of the votes and emerges from the elections as the strongest political force in Austria. The new government, when formed, will be a coalition. But it will be a far different coalition than any that Austria has seen in recent years. Conservatives will not be the junior partners this time around. The main partner of the People’s Party in a new coalition will likely be a populist party with similar political leanings like the Freedom Party. Back in May the Freedom Party almost captured the presidency. The results of that election allowed Brussels to breathe a sigh of relief and hope that Europe’s amour fou with populist, right wing politics was over once and for all.
Last month’s German elections, and today’s results in Austria show beyond a shadow of a doubt the relationship between European electorates and right wing political parties is anything but a fling. Not surprisingly, immigration was the main issue in Austria. While governments dally on effectively dealing with immigration problems, and the European Union sits on its hands hoping the immigration issue will disappear at some point soon, European voters are putting these leaders on notice. What happened in Austria today was no aberration and it will serve the EU well to keep that in mind.
Catalonia’s ill-advised, and illegal independence referendum has placed Spain on the verge of a constitutional crisis. If Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont follows through on his promise to declare independence in a matter of days the stage will be set for a major confrontation between the government and Catalonia. The Spanish government would almost certainly block the move by any and all means including the use of force. Spain is well within its rights should it feel compelled to use military force. Catalonia’s government leaders, police officials, and referendum organizers incited rebellion against the state with their actions thus far.
Madrid cannot and will not allow an independence declaration to stand. If Catalonia is permitted to detach itself from the rest of the country and form a new nation-state, the Kingdom of Spain would dissolve within a year, carved up and Balkanized. The Basque region will follow Catalonia’s lead and declare independence next. Although a permanent ceasefire exists between the Spanish government and Basque Separatists, Catalan moves are being watched closely in the western Pyrénées. A whiff of independence is already in the air and if Madrid wavers even slightly in its standoff with Catalonia, Basque Country’s declaration will come quickly.
The rest of Europe is watching this crisis carefully, cognizant that the wrong move by either the Spanish government, or the Catalans may trigger a chain reaction of similar events across the continent. Spain is not the only EU nation with a separatist movement within its borders, and a few European nations have experience in fending off separation such as Belgium. Some European leaders are calling for a dialogue between Madrid and the Catalans, however, the statements generally end there. At this point no one wants to appear to be interfering in another nation’s domestic affairs. And for the moment the Catalan situation falls squarely into that category.
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.
Today’s events in Barcelona serve as a grim reminder that the problems Europe faced in 2016 are still alive and well in 2017 despite individual and collective efforts by EU member-states to create the illusion of improving conditions across the continent. Since President Trump was inaugurated in January he has served as a scapegoat for all ailments European. In the aftermath of the populist tsunami last year, EU leaders have countered by portraying Trump and his seemingly anti-EU positions as the common enemy to be challenged. The true challenges facing Europe like terror, and the renewed refugee influx, have been minimized by pro-EU politicians and the media. Non-starter issues such as the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Trump’s tweets, and European diplomatic forays into non-European matters have replaced them.
Although the number of refugees arriving in southern Europe is increasing once again, little is mentioned of it by pro-EU politicians and the European media. The same held true for terrorism until today. Apparent terror incidents in Germany are systematically ruled to be otherwise with astonishing speed. The same European media outlets which covered last year’s incidents with intense focus have downgraded their level of coverage, as was seen with the most recent car attack in Paris. Then came today’s Barcelona attack. As of the time of writing, thirteen deaths and over 80 wounded bystanders have been confirmed. Two men are in custody and a manhunt is underway across Spain for a third man, as anti-terror operations take place at various points around the country.
As much as the EU, and many Europeans try to pretend otherwise, terrorism is no less of a problem today compared to last year. If anything, terror is becoming an even greater security threat. ISIS and other Islamic terror organizations have an infinite pool of potential attackers to select from, and the EU, for fear of appearing politically incorrect for lack of a better term, is dragging its heels in monitoring the people who are potentially serious threats.
Today should serve as a wakeup call for Europe. The threats and problems which the EU have tried to keep hidden in the background still remain front and center. The responsibility for the Barcelona attack falls at least partly on Brussels which prefers to keep the collective EU head buried in the sand rather than confront terror as the danger that it is.