When the prospect of an In/Out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU moved from the realm of speculation to concrete reality, campaigners, politicians and commentators immediately embarked on an assessment of the respective strengths of the two camps.
For the In campaign the prospects were reassuring. Besides the advantage of representing the status quo, there was the support of the political establishment, much of the media and the collective clout of the multiplicity of EU institutions and governments that could be relied on to lean heavily on British public opinion. Above all, as the iconic representative of this formidable constellation of power, there was Angela Merkel.
But now, increasingly, it seems that Merkel, as a calculated asset, should be transferred from the In to the Out camp. The German chancellor has shown herself a serial bungler, her judgement so flawed and her conduct so provocative to European electorates that she can now be counted as a liability rather than an asset to Europhiles. Unintentionally, Angela Merkel has become the Eurosceptics’ best friend.
It is increasingly evident the myth of Merkel was never based on her personal achievements, but solely on her status as leader of the largest economy in the EU. Her political misjudgement was first revealed in September 2013 when, anxious to kick off her shoes and relax, she left the G-20 summit in St Petersburg too early, allowing the United States an opportunity to manoeuvre the other four European G-20 members into signing a joint declaration on a response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, with Germany’s signature embarrassingly absent.
If that mishap had more impact on the commentariat than the wider public, her cack-handed mismanagement of the Greek crisis was a different matter. The chancellor dithered, allowing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble to float a proposal for a temporary five-year Greek exit from the euro that pleased her party’s conservative wing, but appalled her Social Democrat allies and confused the markets, only to settle eventually for another demonstrably unsustainable bailout of Greece without debt relief – an assured recipe for enduring crisis. Now Portugal has picked up the baton from Syriza.
Then came her worst blunder of all: her serious aggravation of Europe’s immigration crisis by inviting a million incomers to migrate, when the prime necessity was a stance that would strongly discourage further population movement. She compounded this by trying arbitrarily to impose on other EU states large quotas of those migrants she had taken it upon herself to invite in. Fatuous soundbites such as “Islam is part of Germany” further alienated her own electorate.
Merkel has a record of inadequate response to crises. In 2011, after the Fukushima accident, she scrapped Germany’s nuclear programme overnight and replaced it with a melange of Green energy substitutes that will cost €1 trillion by the late 2030s. Reliance on Baltic wind turbines and fossil fuels has both created energy instability and increased emission of greenhouse gases. The Merkel myth is dissipating fast. If the UK referendum In campaign is relying on the German chancellor to lend authority to its cause, it may be making a serious miscalculation.