Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 8th 2015 Contents SBG14 FINANCE
SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt NOVEMBER 8 • 2015
Look around Europe, and one leader stands above
all the rest: Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
In France President François Hollande has given
up the pretense that his country leads the con-
tinent. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain,
triumphantly re-elected, is turning Britain into
little England. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy is pre-
occupied with his country s comatose economy.
By contrast, in her 10 years in office, Merkel has grown
taller with every upheaval. In the debt crisis she began as a
ditherer but, in the end, held the euro zone together. On
Ukraine she corralled Europeans into imposing sanctions on
Russia---President Vladimir Putin thinks that she is the only
European leader worth talking to ---and on migration she has
boldly upheld European values, almost alone in her commitment
to welcoming refugees.
It has become fashionable to see this as a progression from
prudence and predominance to rashness and calamity. Critics
assert that, with her welcoming attitude to asylum-seekers,
Merkel has caused a flood that will both wreck Europe and,
long before, also bring about her own political demise.
Both arguments are wrong, as well as profoundly unfair.
Merkel is more formidable than many assume, which is just
as well: Given the European Union s many challenges, she is
more than ever the indispensable European.
Merkel s predominance in part reflects the importance of
Germany, the EU s largest economy and its mightiest exporter,
with sound public finances and historically low unemployment.
She also is the longest-serving leader in the EU.
Her personal qualities count for much too. She has defended
Germany s interests without losing sight of Europe s, she has
risked German money to save the euro, while keeping skeptical
Germans aboard, and she has earned the respect of her fellow
leaders even after bruising fights with them. Most impressively,
and alone among center-right leaders in Europe, she has done
this without pandering to anti-EU and anti-immigrant populists.
For all the EU s flaws, she does not treat it as a punching bag,
but rather as a pillar of peace and prosperity.
Merkel is far from perfect. She is not given to great oratory
or grand visions. She can be both a political chameleon who
adopts left-wing policies to occupy the center ground, and
a scorpion who quietly eliminates potential rivals. Her natural
caution has given rise to a German neologism, "merkeln" "to
merkel," or to put off big decisions. Her timidity in handling
the euro s woes deepened the crisis unnecessarily, and she
has spurned the risk-sharing that the euro area needs to thrive.
Ironically it is boldness, not timidity, that has brought Merkel
the greatest challenge of her time in office. Her staunch refusal
to place an upper limit on the number of refugees that Germany
can absorb has caused growing consternation at home and
criticism abroad. As German municipalities protest, her political
allies are denouncing her and eastern European countries are
accusing her of "moral imperialism." With Willkommenskultur
fading, there is even talk of her losing power.
The doubts are overblown. Critics are wrong to assume that
Merkel is about to be toppled. Grumbling aside, she remains
the dominant figure of her Christian Democratic Union. A
recent poll found that 82 per cent of CDU members approve
of her leadership and 81 per cent want her to run for a fourth
term as chancellor in the election due in 2017. The electoral
math favors another CDU-led government. Merkel is unlikely
to go, in short, unless she chooses to.
The naysayers are wrong to suggest that she has lost her
way on migration. Quite the opposite. During the crisis the
Lutheran pastor s daughter has found a forceful political and
Merkel did not cause the onrush of migrants, as her critics
maintain. The migrants were coming anyway. She acted to
avert a humanitarian disaster. Fences will not hold back the
flow. Merkel can neither stop the wars that drive people out
of their homes nor set the policies of the countries they pass
Her critics offer no plausible alternative. Short of overturning
international and European law, and watching refugees drown
or die of exposure, EU countries must process the claims of
asylum-seekers. The question is, will the process be orderly
Under Merkel, a four-part policy is taking shape: Unapolo-
getically absorb refugees at home, share the burden across
Europe and beyond, strengthen controls and the processing
of asylum-seekers at Europe s external borders, and negotiate
with transit countries.
This approach is principled and, in the long run, it is the
only one that can work. Of course it comes with drawbacks
and risks. There are likely to be less-than-principled deals,
particularly with Turkey --- turning a blind eye to the erosion
of civil liberties and the disturbing election victory of President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan s ruling Justice and Development party,
and other concessions, in the hope that he will agree to act
as Europe s gatekeeper.
There is no denying that the mass influx of refugees is
aggravating many of Europe s other looming problems. It is
fraying relations between Germany and eastern European
countries, at a time when solidarity is vital to contain Russia s
aggression. It is adding to the burdens of Greece, already
crushed by years of austerity and never far from leaving the
euro, and it is bringing a British exit from the EU closer, too,
by giving voters more reasons to leave in Cameron s promised
in/out referendum. It is stoking populism everywhere.
This is Europe s biggest crisis in a generation. If integration
once seemed inexorable, the pressing question now is how to
stop the EU from fraying. Merkel did not cause this grim
reality, but she is the continent s best hope for dealing with
it. It is in Europe s best interests to help the chancellor, rather
than to leave her to confront the crisis alone.
After a decade in power, politicians usually retire, lose touch
or are overthrown. Without Merkel, however, it is hard to see
Europe mastering its destructive forces.
@2015 The Economist Newspaper Ltd. Distributed by
the New York Times Syndicate
The indispensable European
Chancellor Angela Merkel
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