Friday, 30 October 2015

In Germany, thinking about a post-Merkel reality

The European Union has had a rough year. And by most indicators, it’ll only get worse before Christmas.

Greece is about to move into the next cycle of combat with its creditors. And the big story is how refugees by the hundreds of thousands are still pouring into the bloc with almost no compunction shown by the various EU authorities to stop them. The humanitarian demands for leniency on amnesty applications has all but disappeared into silent embarrassment as the reality of who is actually applying becomes clear.

Originally, the media built a narrative of poor, desperate Syrian refugees fleeing the fighting in the Levant and brow-beat EU governments to open their borders and towns. Of all the people arriving at Europe’s doorstep, special consideration should be given to these people, said the caring groups. Almost immediately the narrative was proven wrong as the majority of refugees weren’t from Syria after all.

Now European leaders, not to mention the various voting publics, are questioning how they were so easily duped into believing this fiction. They have no one to blame but themselves and the decades of institutionalised progressivism and multiculturalism which sapped their politics of clear thought about dealing with the world’s new problems.

Poland is only the first government to fall as a result of the EU’s refugee redistribution policies. There will be more political casualties to come.

The usual suspects of France, Italy, Greece and Turkey are in the headlines with governments struggling under the refugee weight. Importantly, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is in the spotlight too. And if I had to isolate one nation to keep an eye on as this refugee problem spirals, it would be Germany.

Don’t look for Mrs Merkel’s fall, as this is now all but confirmed, but watch for who will replace her. Germany has been reticent to accept its obvious leading role in Europe for almost the entirety of the EU project timeline.

Whether it’s just Mrs Merkel’s personality, the sentiment of her party, the feeling of the German people or something else driving this avoidance is not clear. But Germany’s refusal to grasp and wield its power has been an important factor in hamstringing the EU over the years. At almost any opportunity, Germany has preferred to defer its obvious authority over to Brussels or avoided making important decisions completely, following the EU constitution to the letter.

I understand EU members would be none too happy if Germany dials up its authority, especially given the history of the twentieth century. Yet the size of Germany has always been perpendicular to how it conducts itself on the EU stage. This has led to it making some almost impossible decisions over the years, usually in the negative direction. Decisions that in any other country would never be contemplated, let alone implemented.

The refugee problem is probably the high-water mark of the current series of EU obstacles. The supranational institution has moved far beyond teething problems now. The refugee problem has hit the countries at the cores of their being. It attacks the essence of what it means to be French, Austrian, Polish or German.

There’s nothing Europeans despise more than a dilution of their traditional and diverse cultures at the hands of malicious and rapacious outsiders. Multiculturalism was probably a workable idea when immigration statistics never budged past a few thousand each year. But this is getting ridiculous, so the EU will bring out the guns (both rhetorically and, maybe, physically).

But there are consequences to every action. Mrs Merkel is showing a crippling level of battle fatigue leading to a series of dumbfounding decision making about the refugees. She might also be failing to think long term as so many short term factors hit her political walls. However, she has forgotten that she commands the largest and most important country in the EU and it is creating dangerous political and cultural agitation.

And like a full soda bottle, the lid might tightly be held for the moment but after a while it always comes loose. When it does, this European bottle will feel as though someone has been shaking it since November 1, 1993.

I’m not sure something bad will happen. What I am sure of is the various paths of a post-Merkel reality in which a new leader emerges, striding into power suggesting Germany takes its rightful place at the top of the EU food chain. Everyone watching the EU drama closely knew the bloc would face this circumstance eventually. It is now becoming a serious possibility.

No one’s quite sure a reinvigorated, 21st century German leadership will be a bad thing for Europe, especially if it’s managed inside EU mechanisms. However, almost every significant legal and sovereign mechanism has taken a brutal battering over the past few years, so it’s not clear they can cope if Brussels has the reins yanked from its grasp.

After all, the EU was built as a net around Germany to balance the economic forces of Berlin and Paris. Those sorts of nets have a nasty habit of entangling their owner.

Every politician worth their salt knows better than to waste a good crisis. The refugee problem is boiling into a perfect storm for whomever is waiting patiently in the side-lines in Germany for an opportunity to reshape the EU into a structure more suitable for those, like them, who understand the reality of where the power truly sits today. Power abhors a vacuum.

Will the EU project collapse? Maybe. I would be a poor student of history to expect any supranational organisation to persist forever. But every important detail about its strategy and the foundational reasons for which the EU was created have not altered with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees. That strategy centres on a simple, but deadly worry: what will Europe do about the German question?

So in the next few months, keep an eye out for any of Germany’s major political players moving or finding convenient reasons to strengthen Germany’s intense EU power. Some countries will ask for this, others will ring the warning bells. Whatever happens, the next phase of the EU project could be the deciding factor for how the world grapples with the geopolitical pressures of the 21st century.

At the very least, the EU will be radically different after this. At worst, well…no one appreciates it when their culture is threatened by enemies – real or imagined. And it’s now painfully clear this feeling is no longer only a German sentiment.

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