Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is one of the most powerful leaders in the world. She is also one of the most successful leaders in the world. For over a decade she has presided over one of the world’s most peaceful and prosperous democracies, her leadership essentially unchallenged.
Last year she used her formidable clout to do something unprecedented: to admit into Germany over one million refugees, most from the war torn Middle East. This single decision – either brave and bold or dangerous and foolhardy, depending on how you look at it – has cost her dearly.
This past weekend, Germany’s now highly motivated right wing party, the AfD or Alternative for Germany, beat Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats into third place in important state elections. This humiliating result has been viewed as a referendum on Merkel’s immigration policy – and, also, on Merkel herself. It’s shot across her bow, a warning to the Chancellor that before next year’s general elections, attention better be paid.
Merkel’s pro-Europe policy is similarly vulnerable, especially in the East, which previously could be counted in the EU (European Union) camp. Just recently she visited Warsaw to meet with East European leaders, including those from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Of course the gathering was cordial enough. But, it was equally clear that each of Merkel’s East European counterparts had grave reservations about both cornerstones of her policies – on immigration and (EU) integration.
The judgement of history will be kind to Angela Merkel. But unless she reverts to the caution that historically was her hallmark, her short term future will be harsher.