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
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.

Will Germany’s economy benefit from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to throw open the nation’s doors to enormous numbers of refugees from beyond Europe’s borders? What, if any, is the connection between this decision and the hunger of German business for new workers in a shrinking labour market?

On these questions there is a spectrum of opinions. At one end stands Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right, anti-immigrant National Front. On her party’s website you can find a video and text of a speech she delivered in Marseilles on September 8.

Ms Le Pen said of Ms Merkel’s decision: “Germany is most likely thinking about its ageing population, and it is most likely seeking to lower wages and to continue recruiting slaves by means of massive immigration.”

You don’t have to like Ms Le Pen’s vicious language to appreciate that Germany has a demographic problem. According to David Folkerts-Landau, a Deutsche Bank economist, the German population – the EU’s largest, at close to 83m – is set to decline by 3.5m over the next decade unless net migration into Germany increases significantly. Without such migration, he forecasts that the German labour force will shrink by an even greater 4.5m workers. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is right that the current refugee crisis is forcing Europe to consider whether it can live up to its own, self-proclaimed values. Unfortunately, the answer is likely to be “No”.

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.

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

Is Bild going soft on Greece? After weeks spent hammering Athens over its debt-fuelled profligacy, the top-selling German tabloid has laid out the welcome mat for Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras for his first visit to Berlin.

“Willkommen in Deutschland, Herr Tsipras,” said Bild in a front page banner headline published hours before the radical leftist was due to meet chancellor Angela Merkel over dinner later on Monday. And just to make sure the visitor got the message, the paper filled the bottom half of its front page reproducing the headline in Greek. Read more

The eurozone is mired in a stand-off over Greece’s government debt which, at roughly 175 per cent of gross domestic product, is the highest in the currency union. But new data released on Tuesday make one wonder whether member states should stop worrying about Athens’ fiscal woes and start being concerned about… Berlin’s. Read more

A top adviser at the European Court of Justice has said that the European Central Bank’s crisis-fighting Outright Monetary Transactions programme falls within policy makers’ mandate.

Q: That’s pretty much a green light for quantitative easing next week isn’t it?

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Most euro area governments and investors are breathing a sigh of relief after Wednesday’s preliminary judgment from the EU’s highest court in favour of the European Central Bank’s sovereign bond-buying programme – the 2012 initiative that helped to bring the euro crisis under control.

But governments and investors, in and outside Europe, should keep in mind that the danger of a bitter, protracted struggle over EU constitutional law will now go up. This would pit Germany against other power centres in the EU. Read more

• Syria’s young girls are facing assault, early marriage and being forced into prostitution as the refugee crisis spirals. The IRC, selected by the FT for its 2014 seasonal appeal, is seeking to protect and empower them

• A motley crew of ex businessmen, academics and pro-Russia activists has seized control in Ukraine’s rebel republics Read more

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Like anyone familiar with the French definition of budgetary discipline, I didn’t spill my coffee in shock on Wednesday morning when Michel Sapin, finance minister, disclosed that France wouldn’t bring its public finances in line with EU-set targets until 2017 – two years later than previously agreed.

From the day of the euro’s launch in January 1999, it’s never been any different in Paris. No grande nation worth its salt would balance its budget on the orders of some bumptious bureaucratic bean-counter in Brussels. Read more

The success of a football match, traditionally measured by who scores the most goals, can now also be measured by who scores the most tweets.

Twitter said that last night’s final between Germany and Argentina generated a new “tweets per minute” record, with a peak TPM of 618,725 World Cup related tweets as the final whistle blew.

During the final, the second-highest TPM of 556,449 occurred when Germany’s Mario Götze scored the winning goal against Argentina – the aftermath of which can be seen in Twitter’s real-time interactive animation of World Cup tweets during extra time, with much of the world lighting up in white in the seconds after the goal: Read more

US-German relations strained over new spying allegations
Germany has summoned the US envoy following allegations that an agent working for Germany’s intelligence agency was spying for the US. Gideon Rachman is joined by James Blitz, former security correspondent, and Jeevan Vasagar, Berlin correspondent, to discuss what this means for already troubled relations between the Obama and Merkel governments, and how the two nations can resolve their differences in order to tackle the numerous shared geopolitical challenges they face.