Germany

Merkel’s populist challenge

Angela Merkel is facing a new challenge to her leadership after the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany dealt her party a stinging blow in a regional election on Sunday. What threat does the success of the populist party pose for German stability and for Merkel’s chance of remaining as chancellor? Gideon Rachman puts the question to Stefan Wagstyl, the FT’s Berlin bureau chief and Fred Studemann, comment editor.

By Gideon Rachman

There was something distinctly presidential about Angela Merkel’s European travels last week. The German chancellor met 15 other EU leaders on a whistle-stop tour of the continent. It is the kind of speed-dating diplomacy that US presidents often undertake, as they build consensus and reassure allies.

By Gideon Rachman

The way the press treats political leaders marks a crucial dividing line between free and authoritarian countries. In an authoritarian state, presidents and prime ministers demand and receive reverential treatment. In democratic countries, political leaders know that they will be subject to satire — and vicious and sometimes unfair criticism.

Can Angela Merkel survive Europe’s refugee crisis?
Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats suffered a setback in regional elections last weekend. How wounded is the chancellor and have German politics changed fundamentally under the pressure of the refugee crisis? Gideon Rachman puts the question to Fred Studemann and Stefan Wagstyl.

By Gideon Rachman

The fate of Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy on refugees has assumed global significance. Nationalists from Russia to the US are pointing at the German chancellor’s policies as a symbol of the failure of an out-of-touch liberal elite. In the most recent US presidential debate, Donald Trump denounced Ms Merkel, adding: “Germany is a disaster right now.” Even within the EU, many leaders, particularly in the east, echo that sentiment.

By Gideon Rachman

There was a time when Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was widely tipped to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany. Good-looking, aristocratic, married to a descendant of Bismarck and beloved by the popular press, zu Guttenberg had cut a dash, first as a decisive economics minister, and then as Germany’s youngest defence minister — appointed at the age of 37 in 2009. And then, in two disastrous weeks in early 2011, his gilded career fell apart, after it was revealed that he had plagiarised large parts of his doctoral thesis. Within two weeks, zu Guttenberg had resigned from the German government. Shortly afterwards, he left for a career in business in the US.

By Gideon Rachman
The EU has faced two major crises over the past six months — one involving the euro, the other involving refugees. By coincidence, the same two countries are at the centre of both problems — Greece and Germany. Last summer, Germany almost forced Greece out of the euro, rather than agree to the EU lending further billions to the Greek government. Now, Germany is reeling under the impact of the arrival of more than 1m would-be refugees, most of whom have entered the EU through Greece.

By Gideon Rachman
In 2015, a sense of unease and foreboding seemed to settle on all the world’s major power centres. From Beijing to Washington, Berlin to Brasília, Moscow to Tokyo — governments, media and citizens were jumpy and embattled.

By Gideon Rachman
In the 1930s, the Spanish civil war sucked in outsiders, with Nazi Germany backing the nationalists, the Soviet Union backing the Republicans and foreign idealists flocking to the country to fight on either side of the conflict.

Merkel under pressure
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel is facing an array of problems ranging from the scandal at Volkswagen to the arrival of up to a million refugees in the country. Gideon Rachman discusses the extent of Germany’s difficulties and whether it amounts to a crisis with Stefan Wagstyl and Andy Sharman.

Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim

Not content with threatening to cut off funding for artists she deems disloyal to Israel, Miri Regev, Israel’s far-right culture minister, is apparently seeking to project power onto her country’s preeminent foreign policy issue: the recently signed nuclear deal with Iran. Read more

When German chancellor Angela Merkel took time off from the Greece crisis this week, she must have thought she was on safe ground visiting a school in the port of Rostock.

But an encounter with a 13-year-old Palestinian refugee girl turned the trip into a PR debacle. The chancellor’s apparent inability to sympathise with the teenager triggered a storm of social media criticism about her behaviour – and German immigration policy.

A lot of it was very unfair. Yet the episode highlights a weakness in Ms Merkel’s engagement with her public: while she is very good in judging the mood of Germans as a whole, she can be uncomfortable in individual confrontations. Read more

Who loses most from the Greek rescue deal?
On Monday Athens was given a long list of economic reforms it needed to implement in return for another EU bailout. Was it a humiliation for the Greeks or a capitulation by the Germans? Gideon Rachman and Wolfgang Munchau discuss who was the biggest loser.

  • Amid the political noise, the historic nuclear deal between Iran and international powers is a victory for pragmatism in Tehran, writes Roula Khalaf
  • Greece’s creditors have destroyed the eurozone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union, argues Wolfgang Münchau
  • Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump offers a megaphone to the noisy minority of Americans who believe they are losing the battle with modernity, writes Ed Luce
  • Europe’s creditor-in-chief has trampled over values like democracy and national sovereignty, and left a vassal state in its wake. Which country will be next? asks Philippe LeGrain (Foreign Policy)
  • We apologise to Marxists worldwide for Greece refusing to commit ritual suicide to further the cause. We elected a good, honest and brave man, who fought like a lion, writes Alex Andreou (Byline)

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By Gideon Rachman
Europe woke up on Monday to a lot of headlines about the humiliation of Greece, the triumph of an all-powerful Germany and the subversion of democracy in Europe.

  • July 2015 will go down in history as a continuation of hell for Greece, whose leftwing government has brought catastrophe to the nation, argues Tony Barber
  • The beginning of the end for Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s finance minister who has just stepped down, began not in Athens, or even Brussels or Berlin, but in the small Baltic capital of Riga
  • Though Ivory Coast has staged a successful comeback since its civil war, some say the focus on the economy at the expense of reconciliation could come back to haunt the country
  • Mexico’s government wants to tame the disruptive teachers’ union which has seized public plazas, burned government buildings and choked off a city’s gas supply (Washington Post)
  • “Germany has never repaid”: In a forceful interview, French economist Thomas Piketty calls for a major conference on debt (Medium, orginally published by Die Zeit)

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  • Angela Merkel is taking her revenge on Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras by insisting there can be no more talks on the country’s debt crisis until after its referendum on the bailout on Sunday
  • After China’s main stock index fell by 5 per cent yesterday, investors are blaming the share collapse on the securities regulator and the shadowy world of margin lending
  • An Egyptian soap opera set in a neighbourhood in old Cairo circa 1948 offers an empthatic portrayal of the Jewish community – and casts Islamists as the bad guys
  • Yes? No? Greek Voters Are Perplexed by a Momentous Referendum (New York Times)
  • In Ramadi, the Islamic State settles in, fixing roads and restoring electricity (Washington Post)

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By Gideon Rachman
When the radical left won power in Greece in January much was made of the fact that Yanis Varoufakis, the new finance minister, is an academic economist. Many expected that Greece’s negotiating strategy would display a new subtlety and brilliance, now that it was guided by the co-author of Game Theory — A Critical Introduction.

This week Greece finally put a figure on its demand for war reparations from Germany – €278.7bn as compensation for the death and destruction visited by the Nazis during the war. Opinion polls suggest that this gambit is widely popular in Greece. But by bringing this issue up now, the Greek government may have made a serious miscalculation that could contribute to the country’s disorderly exit from the euro.

Greece’s reparations demand comes at a time when the government in Athens is running out of money and its creditors are running out of patience. The country is likely to need a new bailout package this summer. By putting the reparations issue on the table, the Greeks may feel they gain extra leverage – as well as the possibility that they will actually get debts written off, rather than simply extended. But they have also significantly raised the risk that the Germans will simply walk away from the table altogether – forcing Greece into a default and a disorderly exit from the euro. Read more

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