The stain on Merkel’s legacy

The German chancellor enabled authoritarians in the EU. Will whoever succeeds her prove different?

The stain on Merkel’s legacy

Daniel Hegedüs is transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States

BERLIN — Angela Merkel’s 16-year German chancellorship oversaw all three main European Union crises of the 21st century: the 2008 financial and sovereign debt crisis, the 2015 migrant crisis and the ongoing rule of law and democracy crisis.

And while she performed admirably with first and successfully survived the second, it’s the last one that will define her legacy. Merkel is not simply leaving the EU’s rule of law problem — the most transformative challenge for European integration in the long term — unsolved for her successor. It is primarily under her watch that the authoritarian ambitions of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Poland’s strongman Jarosław Kaczyński were able to grow to pose a systemic challenge for the EU.

Merkel has been constantly criticized for being soft on Orbán and prioritizing the interests of the German automotive and manufacturing industries over the democratic integrity of the EU. She has also been accused of not speaking out against the country’s authoritarian dynamics in order to keep the black sheep of the European People’s Party (EPP), Orbán’s Fidesz party, within the conservative political family.

Could Merkel have acted differently, drawing hard red lines for Hungary and Poland? No question.

But can Europe expect a radically different, critical approach toward the EU’s wannabe autocrats from whoever succeeds her in Berlin? Not necessarily.

Merkel’s strategic choices were not hers alone; they are deeply rooted in the fundamental traditions of German politics and diplomacy. As such, they are shared by not only the Christian Democrats (CDU) but also the German Social Democrats (SPD), the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and, even if to a lesser extent, the Greens as well.

What shaped the German approach toward Hungary and Poland goes beyond the fact that these countries are organic parts or the German-Central European manufacturing core and that they thus dispose of extensive and ever-growing German foreign direct investment (FDI) stocks.

It also goes further than the truth that German politics is shaped by the country’s historic responsibility vis-á-vis Central and Eastern European countries and that Fidesz used to be an important member of the EPP.

Below the surface are two strategic drivers that have shaped Berlin’s approach to the growing autocratization in its Central European neighborhood.

First, is the German elites’ traditional inability to define the country’s national interest in anything other than economic terms since the reunification. In this mindset, geo-economic considerations trump everything else, a trend that has also been well reflected in Germany’s approach to Russia and China.

Second, German political and foreign policy culture is extremely consent and dialogue oriented. Speaking with, and not about, the Central European autocrats has been a mantra of German diplomacy for a decade now.

However, this foreign policy tradition is practically powerless against counterparts who fake dialogue, like the Hungarian government, or are not ready to move even one step further than simply maintaining channels of communication, like Poland.

In a nutshell, in Berlin’s understanding, democracy and rule of law are simply values that are unrelated to their interests. They are nice to have but are not essential to make profit. They deserve lip service but lag behind in importance to market access and maintaining dialogue.

The SPD, Greens and FDP may be more committed to these two values than their conservative counterparts, but they do not represent a different school of thought when it comes to interest formulation and strategy. They share the same traditions and structural constraints that shaped German policy under Merkel.

This stain on the chancellor’s legacy is the joint legacy of the German political class. It is also the legacy of the SPD, which has been governing with Merkel for 12 of her 16 years in office and has been in control of the foreign office during that time.

Not ready or able to credibly threaten sanctions, German diplomacy is stuck in an empty dialogue trap. Merkel’s successor has an opportunity to leave the path she has paved and demonstrate that Germany’s approach toward autocratization in the EU can be different.

There are good reasons to doubt that will happen. But if the next chancellor doesn’t change Germany’s approach, the stain on Merkel’s legacy will become their own.


For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

Source : Politico EU More   

What's Your Reaction?


Next Article

UK to investigate Afghan interpreter data breach

The email addresses of more than 250 interpreters were inadvertently revealed by the UK Ministry of Defense.

UK to investigate Afghan interpreter data breach

U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has ordered an urgent investigation into a data breach involving the email addresses and pictures of Afghan interpreters who worked with British forces.

The BBC reported Monday that more than 250 people seeking to relocate to the U.K. were mistakenly copied into an email from the U.K. Ministry of Defense, inadvertently revealing their details. In some cases, a photo was attached to the email addresses.

Since the Taliban’s swift victory, Afghan interpreters who previously worked for the British Armed Forces have been forced to hide fearing reprisals.

Though the U.K. offered refuge to most interpreters and their families under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, the last U.K. plane flying people out of Kabul left on September 4. The then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab admitted afterward the U.K. government doesn’t know how many people eligible to come to Britain have been left behind.

In a statement, an MoD spokesperson confirmed an investigation has been launched and apologized for the data breach.

“An investigation has been launched into a data breach of information from the Afghan Relocations Assistance Policy team,” the spokesperson said. “We apologize to everyone impacted by this breach and are working hard to ensure it does not happen again.

“The Ministry of Defense takes its information and data handling responsibilities very seriously,” they added.

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey said: “We told these Afghans interpreters we would keep them safe, instead this breach has needlessly put lives at risk. The priority now is to urgently step up efforts to get these Afghans safely to the U.K.”

“This is the second major data breach from the MoD this year, after sensitive documents were discovered at a bus stop in Kent in June,” Healey added.

Source : Politico EU More   

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.