For the better part of her tenure as German Chancellor, Angela Merkel could do no wrong. She was that popular at home. She was that respected abroad. And she was so successful at wielding her low key approach to power that she effectively led not only in Germany, but in Europe. For the most of the last decade it was Merkel, more than any of her European counterparts, who was the fulcrum on which the continent turned.
Those days are now over. The worm has turned. Ever since Merkel put out a humungous welcome mat for Middle Eastern migrants a year ago, her domestic approval ratings have dropped and her foreign policy creds have diminished. This was exacerbated in the last week when her new best friend forever, Turkey’s autocratic president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, put the squeeze on her. Knowing that he had gained the upper hand in containing the flow of migrants, which had become Merkel’s highest priority, he insisted that she permit prosecution of a German comic who had had the temerity to insult him. To the dismay of fully two thirds of Germans, the Chancellor buckled under heel of the president.
My point is not to remark on Merkel’s original decision to allow more than a million migrants to settle in Germany in one year. Nor on her subsequent decision to make a pact with the devil – Erdogan – to get him to help her staunch the flow. Nor is it even on her decision a few days ago to compromise on free speech, to permit prosecution of a comedian to go forward.
Rather my point is to point to the perils of power prolonged. Merkel has already been chancellor for ten years. She is tired and so are her followers. The large majority of Germans who for a decade were putty in her hands are putty no longer. Their patience is wearing thin and their desire for new blood in the Chancellor’s office is becoming palpable. If Angela Merkel wants her reputation as a great global leader to remain intact, she had better clean up her mess as rapidly as possible and then scamper on out of the public eye.