So far, the political repercussions of the European immigration crisis seem to have hit everyone except Angela Merkel. The Austrian government has fallen, extremist parties have overtaken mainstream ones—but the woman whom many regard as the primary author of Europe’s unpopular policies has so far sat relatively unchallenged. (Germany’s far-right party, the AfD, is “up,” but only in German terms; other nations wish their far-right parties were only polling at about 15 percent.) However, this long period of political dominance may now be drawing to a close.
Three sudden developments in the last few days suggest that the Chancellor is in greater jeopardy than any time since the beginning of the crisis. First, the polls are turning sour. As the Times of London reports:
Two thirds of Germans want Angela Merkel out at the next election, according to a poll showing the impact of the migrant crisis on her once unassailable popularity.
Sixty-four per cent of German voters hope that she will not get a fourth term in office next year, compared with 48 per cent who wanted her ousted in a similar poll in November.
The chancellor’s approval ratings tumbled after an influx of 1.1 million migrants into Germany last year. Mrs Merkel, 61, who came to power in 2005, still enjoys widespread respect but the polling by INSA for Cicero magazine suggests that Germans have had enough of her leadership.
Second, a long-running disagreement on the German center-right over refugee policy appear to be turning into a big political split:
Peter Tauber, the General Secretary of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, has said that it would “not be bad,” if the CDU and its Bavarian sister-party, the CSU, presented separate manifestoes at next year’s national elections. His comments come in the wake of months of tension within the CDU/CSU union as a consequence of the migration crisis. Separately, 15 leading members of Merkel’s CDU have signed a manifesto calling for an “unsparing, honest and critical self-analysis” of the party in the wake of electoral losses to the right-wing AfD in regional elections in March.
Reports suggest that the CSU may choose to campaign separately from the CDU in forthcoming elections as a result. If so, this would be a significant rupture—one that would normally deeply endanger the leader of the CDU.
The problem is, as the Times notes, that there isn’t a clear-cut alternative to Merkel. She dominates the CDU-CSU, where other potential leaders are seen as either too old, too young, or simply not up to the Chancellorship. And what would normally be the main opposition, the Social Democratic Party, has been a member of Merkel’s Grand Coalition, with its leader, Sigmar Gabriel, showing little sign of wanting to bring down the house over an issue where his party may be even further to the left of the country as a whole than Merkel. But Merkel and the right have been in power for a long time, and Gabriel’s lefty troops are getting restless:
Sigmar Gabriel, dogged by ill health and forced to quash rumors he will quit, is under unprecedented pressure but moving left would ratchet up tensions within Germany’s ruling coalition where the SPD is junior partner to Merkel’s conservatives.[..]
At a party event this week, union official Susanne Neumann accused Gabriel – who is vice-chancellor and economy minister – of ignoring the problems of ordinary Germans struggling to find secure work and earn a decent wage. She made short shrift of his case that it was the fault of Merkel’s conservatives.
“So why do you stay with the conservatives?” asked Neumann to loud cheers and applause from the audience.[..]
Neumann’s solution, to ditch the grand coalition, has drawn support. It spurred Matthias Miersch, head of leftist lawmakers in the SPD, to warn in Bild daily that the Austrian experience showed the results of a ‘grand coalition’ becoming the norm.
“We must get out of the grand coalition after the next parliamentary election – that is clear,” Miersch told Bild.
There’s still nobody out there who can take on Merkel directly—yet. But the chances of such a thing happening soon are now higher than they’ve been in some time; a political storm seems to be gathering in the most powerful nation in Europe.