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The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been criticised for her foreign policy.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been criticised for her foreign policy.

Germany's Angela Merkel faces isolation at home and abroad

Commentators say Mrs Merkel, after six years as German leader, may be facing her twilight unless she gets her party back in line and manages to reassure voters, who are increasingly alarmed at the prospect of having to foot the bill for the European debt crisis.

BERLIN // Angela Merkel, under fire at home and abroad for her handling of the euro debt crisis and a perceived lack of leadership, is unlikely to have found much solace in being named the world's most powerful woman by Forbes last month.

The German chancellor is battling a rebellion in her conservative party over the single currency, and her political future hangs in the balance ahead of a parliamentary vote on crucial changes to the euro bailout fund.

Meanwhile, German elder statesmen, including her former mentor, Helmut Kohl, have been lining up to attack her foreign policy record, and Mrs Merkel's international partners are worried that Germany has become more unilateralist and less reliable under her government.

Commentators say Mrs Merkel, after six years as German leader, may be facing her twilight unless she gets her party back in line and manages to reassure voters, who are increasingly alarmed at the prospect of having to foot the bill for the European debt crisis.

Her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party has suffered a series of regional election defeats this year. The loss of power in March in the large, wealthy south-western state of Baden-Württemberg, a CDU bastion since 1953, was a particularly stinging blow.

Mrs Merkel had planned to campaign yesterday for the CDU at location election rallies, but her father, Horst Kasner, passed away on Friday and she cancelled all of her appearances.

The most damaging criticism of Mrs Merkel has come from Mr Kohl, 81, the longest-serving post-war chancellor. He is frail and wheelchair-bound, but his voice still carries weight, especially among older conservative voters, and his verdict on Mrs Merkel in a magazine interview last month was damning.

"Germany has not been a predictable force for several years now - neither at home nor abroad," Mr Kohl, who led Germany for 16 years until 1998, told Internationale Politik. "The enormous changes in the world can be no excuse for having no view or idea where you belong and where you are going." Germany, he added, lacked a "compass".

He was referring in part to Mrs Merkel's decision to abstain in the UN Security Council vote in March authorising Nato military action in Libya, a decision that broke with Germany's decades-old tradition of loyalty to its Western partners and was described by commentators as its biggest foreign policy mistake since the end of the Second World War.

In abstaining, Germany sided with Russia and China, and angered France, Britain and the United States. The success of the Nato operation has embarrassed Berlin, and Mrs Merkel's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, came under pressure to resign after he initially suggested the downfall of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was brought about by the economic sanctions backed by Germany, rather than by the air strikes.

There have been other examples of Germany veering away from its partners. Mrs Merkel brushed off calls from France and the US to scale down Germany's perennial trade surpluses, seen as a source of economic imbalance in the world. And she did not consult European neighbours before she decided to phase out nuclear power generation in Germany following the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Mrs Merkel's reluctance over the past 18 months to bail out ailing euro zone member countries, and her insistence that those nations impose crippling austerity packages, has fuelled concern among partners that she is less committed to European integration than previous German leaders.

Her position is more precarious than it has been at any time since she took office in 2005. Some two dozen MPs from the CDU have threatened to vote against the EU agreement to increase the size and scope of the €440 billion (Dh2.3 trillion) euro rescue fund in a parliamentary vote on September 29, because they believe this would cause a massive, long-term redistribution of wealth from Germany to weaker EU members.

Her coalition only has a majority of 19 in the 620-seat parliament. If she fails to get enough backing from her own MPs, her authority will suffer a potentially fatal blow, and she may call a vote of confidence or seek an early election.

"It would be the beginning of the end of her chancellorship," Gerd Langguth, Mrs Merkel's biographer, told The National.

In an apparent response to attacks that she is not pro-European enough, Mrs Merkel has been peppering recent statements with uncharacteristically flowery rhetoric. She said last week that European integration filled her with "awe and humility" and that "Europe is the solution".

"Merkel has always had trouble conveying emotion," said Prof Langguth. "Someone told her to sound more emotional about Europe, so she did. I do think she's a committed European, but from the head rather than from the heart."

Mrs Merkel is in a quandary. German taxpayers don't want to go on underwriting the debt of nations that fail to live up to Teutonic fiscal discipline. They are also deeply wary of ceding more sovereignty to EU institutions, even though that may be the only way to overcome the debt crisis.

But the rest of Europe wants Germany, the continent's biggest economy, to bail it out, and to continue its tradition of unquestioning support for the bloc.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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