Twilight for Merkel as Migration Issue Reconfigures EU Politics

(Boston) Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome over a million migrants to Germany was hailed by Establishment opinion as an act of humane statesmanship.  Today it is widely viewed as a colossal political blunder, the consequences of which are continuing to transform European politics in unexpected and often undesirable ways.

However well intended, her initiative has had the practical effect across Europe of dividing and diminishing political parties on the Left while uniting and growing those on the Right.  Only recently Ms. Merkel was seen not only as the titan of European politics, but perhaps the principal leader of the Free World as well.  Now there is doubt whether she can survive as the leader of Germany or even her own political party.

The best explanation for this stunning turn of events is to be found in the story of three National elections that occurred between September and March of the past year.  In all three -Germany, Austria, and Italy- the principal determinant was the explosion of the long suppressed issue of migration.  Prior to these elections raising migration, as a political issue was strictly taboo, a prohibition righteously enforced by elite opinion makers and their media allies.  Violators were routinely denounced as racists, bigots, and xenophobes.  Fascist, and Nazi were commonly employed labels.

The principal victims of this demonization were working class voters who unlike the affluent and insulated elites bore the brunt of the impact of the migrants on society (e.g. schools, crime).  Long the foundation of Socialist parties across the continent these voters -tired of the abuse- began a migration of their own – deserting the parties of the Left in massive numbers and moving rightward toward heretofore fringe parties such as Germany’s AfD.

The German election in September was the first shock in this series of political earthquakes.  Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its’ sister party the Bavarian based Christian Social Union (CSU) had their worst result since World War II, even though they remained Germany’s largest party.  The biggest losers however were the Socialists (SPD), whose vote shrunk to less than half its previous high.  The big winner was the Euroskeptic and anti-migrant  Alternative for Germany (AfD), which became the first explicitly right wing party to enter the  Bundestag since World War II.

A month later a similar dynamic prevailed in the Austrian election where parties of the Right gained no less than 69% of the vote and the two largest (People’s Party and Freedom Party) – both anti-migrant – were able to form a government led by a charismatic 31 year old Sebastian Kurz.

The last and largest of these electoral uprisings came in Italy in March where the populist parties (5 Star and Northern League) won a majority at the polls and have formed a government that has become the catalyst for a total revamping of EU policies on migration.

In rapid succession Merkel has been directly challenged by the CSU leader Horst Seehofer who gave her an ultimatum to “serve the interests of Germany, not the EU’s failed border policies”, The Austrian Chancellor Kurz who assumed the Presidency of the European Council on July 1st declaring his highest priority to be “the fight against illegal immigration”, and finally Italy-long the principal burden bearer regarding newly arrived illegals- feeling abandoned by the other EU nations declared it would “no longer accept migrants from anywhere”.

Each of these challenges derives from political leaders belatedly heeding the voices of their own people who are demanding not adjustments or tinkering but a dramatically new direction on migration policy.  Merkel’s last ditch effort to salvage the situation and her Chancellorship via the last meeting of EU leaders in Brussels only proved once again, the impossibility of getting 27 nations to reach coherent consensus on any controversial matter.  Typically the loudly trumpeted “compromise” announced at the meeting’s end was little more than a vague promise to “urgently address the strengthening of the EU’s external borders”.

In 2015 Angela Merkel opened a Pandora’s Box and now it is highly unlikely that the myriad problems that emerged from within can be solved by the very same politicians who created them in the first place.  Clearly the Age of Merkel is living on borrowed time.


William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post and Human Events.