Having won Time's "Person of the Year" award, German chancellor Angela Merkel may have little time, or cause, for celebration.
The reason for that is that, as we noted yesterday when commenting on Donald Trump's snub of Time in which he said that it "picked person who is ruining Germany", is that according to increasingly more Germans, Trump just may be - in his trademark politically incorrect way - right.
In past years, Angela Merkel has been feted like a superstar at annual meetings of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, earning thunderous ovations for defending German interests in the euro crisis and facing down Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. But a CDU congress in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe next week is shaping up to be a very different affair. Under intense pressure from conservative allies to reduce the flood of refugees into Germany, the 61-year-old chancellor faces the biggest test of her authority from within the party in years.
Her Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have been pressing for a cap for months, and even some of Merkel's own ministers are lobbying openly for a tougher stance from the chancellor, who marked 10 years in office last month and must decide by next autumn whether she will seek a fourth term in 2017.
"Merkel has never endured such sharp criticism from within her own ranks since becoming chancellor," read a front-page editorial in conservative daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Monday. "Under no circumstances can she allow the congress to approve a resolution on refugee policy that includes the word 'Obergrenze'."
"The mood among conservative members of parliament is really catastrophic right now," said one senior CDU lawmaker, declining to be named. "Merkel is totally isolated." "She needs to wake up," said another top ranking party member.
Why this dramatic shift in opinion about a chancellor who until recently was seen as untouchable and simply indestructable, and suddenly appears to be all too fragile? The answer is shown in the simple chart below, which shows the soaring numbers of migrant arrivals in Germany.
The chart has major implications for Merkel's political career because, as the WSJ notes, the higher the number of migrants, the lower her approval rating... and the higher the rating of her conservative ally, Bavarian Premier Horst Seedorf.
Suddenly invincible Angela does not seem so unshakable. For those who have missed the story, here is what happened from the WSJ:
When refugees marched from Budapest Sept. 4, paralyzing Hungary’s main highway to Austria, Mr. Orban phoned Vienna. Mr. Faymann wouldn’t take his calls, aides to each say. Mr. Orban convened his national-security cabinet and decided to bus the migrants to the border. “If Austria wants them, they can have them,” Mr. Orban said, according to a person present.
Hungary’s foreign minister told his shocked Austrian counterpart the news at an EU meeting that day. Austrian officials, unprepared for mass arrivals, urgently sought German help.
The emergency caught Ms. Merkel on a day of party events in Essen and Cologne. In a volley of phone calls, she and Mr. Faymann shared a calculus, say aides to each: Only force could halt the migrants at the border; inaction could result in exhausted refugees dying on the highway.
Ms. Merkel made a snap decision that sent shock waves around Europe: Throw Germany’s doors open. Bypassing Europe’s asylum rules and skeptical members of her government, she ordered trains to carry the migrants to Munich.
Her aides couldn’t reach her coalition partner, Bavaria’s premier Mr. Seehofer. He, like Mr. Orban, wanted to stop the migrants; the two men became Ms. Merkel’s most outspoken adversaries. Mr. Seehofer declined to be interviewed.
Initially the Germans were delighted...
As Germans greeted refugees in Munich with sweets, toys and hugs, Mr. Orban told Ms. Merkel by phone her decision undermined the fight against illegal immigration and lured migrants to Europe, aides to each say. He lambasted German and Austrian volunteers who drove into Hungary to give Syrians a lift: “Legally they are human traffickers. Is that what you want?”
He told her Hungary was fencing off its southern border. If all EU countries did the same, he said, the crisis would end. “The Hungarian solution,” he said, “is the only solution.”
Ms. Merkel replied that if Europe wanted a wall, it would have to be high and defended with violence against civilians, and Greece could hardly wall the Aegean Sea. A fence might work for Hungary, she told Mr. Orban, but she sought answers for all Europe.
... But then the mood at home turned decidedly sour:
Backlash built against Ms. Merkel at home, where pro-refugee euphoria faded while as many as 10,000 arrived daily. Local governments struggled to house and feed them. In overstretched Bavaria, Mr. Seehofer threatened to sue the federal government unless Ms. Merkel set a cap on arrivals.
She dismissed the demand. “If we have to start apologizing now for showing a friendly face in emergencies,” she told reporters, “then this is not my country.” She knew she had to convince voters the situation wasn’t out of control. Immersing herself in the logistics of accommodating migrants, she learned details about heated tents and housing containers. She tightened rules on asylum-seekers’ benefits. She pushed for EU migrant-processing centers in Greece and Italy to block bogus asylum claimants.
Merkel then did half a U-turn, doing everything in her power to court not only Turkey but Eastern European nations in hopes they would accommodate the bulk of the refugees.
She courted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom she had long mistrusted but whose help she needed to reduce the migrant flow. Mr. Erdogan’s demands, EU officials say, included money for refugee camps, visa-free European travel for Turks, revitalizing stalled talks on EU membership and regular summits with EU leaders. Visiting Istanbul in October, Ms. Merkel told him she was willing to talk about everything. One problem: Her party opposes Turkey’s joining the EU.
No problem: two weekends ago, Turkey was fast tracked for EU accession, with visa requirements set to be reduced, even as Turkey gets billions in "aid" to help with the refugee settlement
Then it was the Balkans' turn:
Balkan countries struggled with the buildup of migrants south of Hungary, whose anti-migrant fence created bottlenecks elsewhere. And many governments criticized Greece for waving migrants through.
At a summit of countries along the Balkan migration trail, called at Ms. Merkel’s behest, leaders warned they would build fences if Germany closed its border. Ms. Merkel said that, having grown up in communist East Germany, she opposed walling off countries but that there might be no alternative unless Greece and others helped manage the flow.
Under German pressure, the Balkan countries agreed to put up 100,000 people until the EU could find long-term homes. By November, far more were entering Europe. Germany alone expects to receive a million asylum-seekers this year.
When it came to vassal state Greece, Germany, pardon Europe, had a simple solution: threaten the country with expulsion from Schengen and an indefinite isolation from the European Union. Greece promptly threw in the towel and handed over control of its border to Brussels.
Meanwhile, the Paris terrorist event has rendered Merkel's initial "welcoming" stance impossible:
The Paris attacks have made Ms. Merkel’s remedies harder to sell. Eastern European leaders are still balking at taking Muslim refugees, although the EU quota decision is binding. Mr. Orban blames Germany’s open-door policy for admitting terrorists. “We are monitoring every Muslim in our territory,” Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said publicly after visiting the French embassy there following the Paris attacks. He declined to comment.
In the end the biggest loser may be Europe itself, whose "union" is unraveling before our eyes. However, before Europe falls, the first casualty will be the person for whom a united Europe, at any means and at any cost, will be her one legacy, or perhaps epitaph.
In Germany, pressure on the chancellor is mounting inside her coalition. At their Nov. 19 party congress, Mr. Seehofer’s Bavarian conservatives voted to cap migration. Ms. Merkel told the congress turning refugees away was unworkable: “Isolation is not a solution in the 21st century.” Applause was sparse.
“You know we’re unrelenting,” Mr. Seehofer replied. “You haven’t heard the last of this.” He earned a thunderous ovation.
How does this end? Keep an eye on Merkel's "scariest chart" for hints: unless Germany can stem the influx of refugees (while making other European nations increasingly angry and unhappy with their lot in the EU) the damage to Germany's chancellor (who once cried when faced with the prospect of a Greek default) inflicted by five years of an insolvency European periphery will seem like a walk in the park compared to what the "refugee tsunami" will unleash first in Germany and then across all of Europe.