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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Chaos swirls under the patina of stability supplied by Angela Merkel's re-election

For all her experience, the German chancellor is entering uncharted territory

Ms Merkel's leadership style was forged in a climate that lacked any real opposition. Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch
Ms Merkel's leadership style was forged in a climate that lacked any real opposition. Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch

Angela Merkel has been re-elected as chancellor of Germany for a fourth term. This is an extraordinary achievement, placing Mrs Merkel alongside Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl as the only other post-war German politicians to win four elections. Her victory, if not exactly pyrrhic, is certainly bittersweet. The gusts that ushered her back into office have also swept Alternative for Germany (AfD) into parliament. Germany’s legislature will for the first time in more than half a century feature members of the country’s far-right.

The left-wing Social Democratic Party, battered in the polls, has decided to become the official opposition, primarily to deny that status to the AfD. Mrs Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats must now forge a coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP). Europe is the world’s richest continent, and Germany is Europe’s richest country. Instability in Germany will have global impact. Mrs Merkel has been at the forefront of the effort to preserve and strengthen the European Union ever since Britain voted last year to exit it. But she will now be shackled by the contradictory demands of a coalition that contains the pro-European Greens and the FDP, which is not all that enthusiastic about European integration.

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Mrs Merkel’s leadership style was forged in a political milieu that lacked any real opposition to her. For all her experience, she is entering uncharted territory: a political landscape with a vocal anti-immigrant right, and a governing coalition composed of moderate parties with often radically competing visions. How will a Europe led by a German leader consumed by her own difficulties handle Brexit to the EU’s advantage?

Thanks to her compassionate handling of refugees, Mrs Merkel is sometimes regarded as the moral leader of the West. Her big-hearted approach to desperate people seeking refuge in Germany empowered, ironically, the xenophobic nationalists who have gone on to capture a significant share of the vote by scapegoating foreigners. Mrs Merkel’s legacy will depend on safeguarding Germany’s most vulnerable inhabitants from the viciousness of its unreconstructed bigots, and Europe from the forces of division.

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