Is it possible that Angela Merkel, the gifted German chancellor whose management of European affairs has been so praised over the last decade, will figure in the history books as the person whose decisions led to the EU’s downfall? It is not out of the question, as she will be the one to bear final responsibility for the migrant crisis.
Napoleon and Merkel
Napoleon was one of the greatest generals in history. He won 53 of 60 battles that he fought, drew four and lost only three. But the third of these was Waterloo and it is today the first thing, sometimes the only thing, that anyone learns about him.
Merkel’s decision last summer to declare open borders to migrants may prove to be her Waterloo: a political downfall that will be the first event associated by posterity to her name, notwithstanding her years of good government management and many political victories.
Why would this be so? Because it can well lead to the political and economic fragmentation of that crown jewel of German Europeanism and post-World War Two economic prosperity, the European Union itself. The migrant crisis increased the likelihood of a British vote for leaving the EU (“Brexit”), and now that the U.K. has decided to leave, the game is not over.
Merkel and Her Partners
Beyond the U.K., there are strong populist movements for referenda on EU membership in both Denmark and The Netherlands. The positive Brexit vote will undoubtedly give them further impetus.
In France, a recent public opinion poll put pro-withdrawal sentiment higher than in the U.K., and this is already a plank in the electoral platform of the Front National, with the next presidential elections to be held less than a year from now.
In Italy, the Northern League is discussing secession because of the budgetary disadvantages of EU membership, caused not least by the Merkelization of European migrant policy. After two years of quiet, the rank and file of the principal Belgian coalition party NVA is militating again in favor of the separation of Flanders from Belgium.
With the British referendum having come down in favour of “Brexit”, time will see these various national-political forces all across Europe further unleashed. In the medium term, this development promotes not just the crippling of the EU through loss of national funding for the Brussels bureaucracy; the cracks in European political unity will be transmitted to its member-states, increasing the centrifugal forces affecting them.
Merkel and the U.S.
Certainly not the least instance of this would be in the U.K. itself, where Scotland may seek another independence referendum, in order to retain the financial advantages and other funding prerogatives it enjoys from Brussels as an already officially designated “European region”.
Only a radical restructuring of the EU can save it. This is hard to see in the cards. Management of the financial crisis of 2008 and the Greek threat of default is still considered a success for Merkel, because a full systemic breakdown was avoided, notwithstanding continuing economic stagnation and fiscal austerity.
The experience shows that the one thing at which Eurocrats have always excelled is “saving” their old institutions, not by transforming them but by creating new ones.
Free-riding under the American-sponsored NATO umbrella during the Cold War, Europe never developed a common energy strategy or a common defense and security policy. The Americans were happy for this at the time; but the times have changed, and the Europeans not.
Merkel and the Fate of the EU
During the Cold War, the EU convinced itself that it was a new kind of paradise entitled to moral superiority and a diplomacy of “norms” instead of power. Like Icarus who fell to the sea, so proud that he flew towards the sun that melted the wax on his wings, Europe has begun to fall from its previously attained dizzying heights.
The ancient Greeks had a name for the EU’s attitude: hubris. The name of the goddess who executes the fate of the all-too-proud was Nemesis. The sea of migrants may, in the end, be not just Merkel’s nemesis but the EU’s as well.
The EU border management organization Frontex, released data that 1.83 million illegal migrants arrived in the EU in 2015, over six times greater than in 2014, equivalent to one every 17 seconds day and night, every day of the year.
[First published in Prince Arthur Herald (Montreal), 28 July 2016.]