Crises pile pressure on Merkel to stay

PRECARIOUS SITUATION: The pressure on Merkel (above) to run again in 2017 is great, considering the overall global political situation. - POLITICAL ANALYST PETER MATUSCHEK
PRECARIOUS SITUATION: The pressure on Merkel (above) to run again in 2017 is great, considering the overall global political situation. - POLITICAL ANALYST PETER MATUSCHEKPHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Many Germans are looking to her seasoned leadership to lead Europe through turmoil

BERLIN • Reacting to the steady drumbeat of crises has become almost commonplace for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

From refugees to rising populism, Brexit to struggling Italian banks, the threats to Europe are multiplying at what seems like an unprecedented pace.

The weekend's shootings in Munich, a machete attack in south-west Germany, and an explosion outside a music festival near Nuremberg, coming so soon after the terror rampage in Nice, add to a sense that events risk spiralling out of control.

Faced with mounting uncertainty, Germans are looking to the steady hand of Europe's most seasoned leader to help anchor the continent.

That domestic imperative is cementing a consensus in Berlin that the Chancellor will seek a fourth term next year, unable to walk away from the burden of responsibility even if she wanted to.

"In part because of the number of challenges, and in part because they're hard to deal with, she feels a commitment to see this through," said Dr Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a former adviser to President Barack Obama on European affairs .

Such a night as was witnessed in Munich, where nine people were shot on Friday by an 18-year-old born and raised in the city, "is hard for all of us to bear", Dr Merkel told reporters on Saturday. "It is all the harder to bear as we've had to take in so much horrific news in such a short space of time," she said.

It is too early to assess the political impact of the week's killings on German soil, and especially whether the involvement of refugees will reignite criticism of last year's decision to allow in some one million asylum seekers.

What is clear is that Dr Merkel's ratings had started to climb in recent weeks as voters were confronted with growing uncertainty: Her Christian Democratic Union-led bloc (CDU) is up 3 points in the month since Britain voted to leave the European Union.

With 35.5 per cent support in an Allensbach poll last Thursday, the CDU reached its highest level this year - 13 points ahead of the Social Democrats (SPD), with whom Dr Merkel governs.

Her popularity has also increased, with 59 per cent support among voters in July, a 9 point jump from the previous month, according to a poll commissioned by broadcaster ARD.

Dr Merkel hasn't indicated whether she will run in the next federal election due in the later part of 2017, saying that she will decide "at the appropriate time". She may not have much choice.

"The pressure on Merkel to run again in 2017 is great, considering the overall global political situation," said Dr Peter Matuschek, chief political analyst for polling company Forsa. Polling shows that more than 80 per cent of CDU members are for a Merkel candidacy, making the expectation on her to run "enormous", he added.

An announcement could come at the CDU party conference in December. Dr Matuschek said that she can afford to wait even longer, putting the media focus on SPD attempts to put up a chancellor candidate at a time when it is suffering historic low poll support.

The most often cited reason for a prospective fourth term is the lack of an obvious successor. Two potential leaders-in-waiting, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, either lack party support or have seen their political star fade.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who commands huge support within the party, demonstrated his loyalty to Dr Merkel by backing her refugee policy at a time when she was damaged politically.

Dr Merkel has overseen Germany's growing clout during almost 11 years in office that spanned the global financial crisis, Greek debt turmoil and euro-area contagion, refugees, Russian aggression in Ukraine and instability on the EU's southern and eastern flanks.

Now add terrorism, Turkish unpredictability and Brexit - Prime Minister Theresa May chose Berlin as her first foreign destination as she seeks Dr Merkel's help to ease the split.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Crises pile pressure on Merkel to stay'. Print Edition | Subscribe