Tuesday 12 December 2017

Merkel - a voice of reason in these insecure times?

Angela Markel's decision to run for a fourth term as German chancellor is sparking much discussion on how the 62-year-old could just be the voice of reason in the fast changing political landscape of the western world.

Donald Trump's victory, Vladimir Putin's entrenched isolationism, Brexit and the rise of far-right politicians in neighbouring France, have all conspired to leave Merkel with a sense of international duty that extends far beyond the frontier of German politics.

It's a duty that was copper-fastened last week when Barack Obama described the German leader as an 'outstanding ally', a phrase that many decoded as passing the baton of international political integrity on to the German leader.

Merkel's decision to seek a fourth term would match Helmut Kohl's tenure, the European stalwart who oversaw the reunification of Germany in 1990.

While Kohl's reign was defined largely by the battle between east and west, the international climate inherited by Merkel is more complicated. The fall-out from an unstable Middle East has resulted in ever-deteriorating circumstances in Syria, bringing the EU's humanitarian responsibility into sharper focus as war weary refugees stream across its borders.

Here too Merkel has been strong in putting her head on the block in adopting an 'open door' policy that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees entering Germany. Indeed, with voters across the world hell-bent on slapping establishment politicians in the face, the refugee issue could ultimately prove to be Merkel's undoing.

The policy has catalysed support for the ultra-nationalist party 'Alternative fur Deutschland' which has seen its popularity rise to become Germany's third largest party.

Meanwhile, the future dynamics between British Prime Minister Teresa May and Chancellor Merkel, in negotiating Britain's exit from the EU, will certainly be interesting too. Add in the ever-present 'stone in the shoe' of French politics, Marine Le Pen, and it's clear that the centre ground in European politics is very much a woman's world right now.

But Merkel's ascension as the supposed political saviour of the western world will raise many eyebrows in Ireland.

Her hard-line stance towards Ireland during the financial crisis is unlikely to see her elevated to the pantheon of saviour here anytime soon.

In 2012 she stated that there were 'unique circumstances' behind Ireland's financial woes but her steadfast position on Ireland 'burning' the bondholders' was a fiscal strategy lacking in social empathy.

And in criticising Ireland last year for not playing more of a leading role in the common European asylum policy, she has also hit many nerves on these shores.

In what is now an unprecedented political climate, Merkel's pitch for a fourth successive term in 2017 presents new challenges to our perceptions of what she stands for.

It polarises opinion on whether or not the pendulum of leadership of the free world has swung towards Berlin and away from Boston; and in a world where Trump and Putin are now the political heavyweights, the reality is that the German chancellor is fast becoming the voice of reason in insecure times.

Wexford People

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