The Powerful and Complicated Angela Merkel

Posted September 28, 2015 on 12:41 pm | In the category Germany, Greece, Human Rights, Merkel | by Jeff

Angela Merkel, one of the world’s most powerful women, appears on the surface to have a dual personality. On the one hand she has dealt a very tough hand to Greece through the German-led austerity program, a program that has not led to improvement in Greece’s economic situation while harming the Greek people immeasurably. On the other hand she has been the strongest voice in Europe for a compassionate, human rights program to assist refugees from the Middle East conflicts. While the Greek austerity program is politically popular in Germany, her proposed refugee program has mixed support among German voters, especially mixed among those in the former East Germany. And while she has had to back off from her initial willingness to accept signifiant numbers of refugees, she is apparently sticking to the basic effort to address the issue, and pulling the rest of the EU along with her.

While forced Greek austerity and welcoming refugees seem to come from very different places, it can be argued that they are both viewed by many in Germany as being in the country’s national interests. But it is perhaps better to view them in terms of her domestic political interests. There is a strong impulse among Germans to punish the Greeks for their past sins of profligacy as well as a view that hard working Germans should not be paying to bail out Greece. The refugees present a human rights issue that many Germans view as an opportunity to do the right thing, while also satisfying Germany’s need for workers in the face of the country’s falling birthrate. But as the numbers of refugees heading to Germany increases beyond original expectations Merkel is now risking a loss in her domestic political support. But having criticized her for her austerity policy it seems fair to give her credit for taking on the refugee issue in a humane and positive way, despite growing domestic uneasiness.

In addition to these major challenges Merkel is now faced with the the unpleasant story of Volkswagen’s deceit in hiding the true polluting effects of its diesel engines. The thought of Germany’s largest and most successful corporation knowingly poisoning the air people breath and hiding the fact of it has an especially ugly resonance and just might force Germans to look in their mirrors before forcing Greeks to continue to accept the destruction of their economy. While this introduces another tough issue for Merkel, I would not bet against her. Her political skills and instincts are simply too impressive to ignore.

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