Politics & Policy

Deus Ex Merkelna

Merkel at the European Union summit in Brussels in June. (Reuters photo: Gonzalo Fuentes)
Germany’s chancellor could bring about reforms to strengthen the EU, but why would she want to?

Later this week, Germans are very likely to reelect Angela Merkel as chancellor. Mainstream pundits will take a strong Merkel victory, add it to the one for Emmanuel Macron in France earlier this year, and tell us a story: After the shocks of Brexit and Donald Trump, populism is in retreat. Maybe it was just an Anglo-American phenomenon. But on Continental Europe, things are going better. Europe’s economy is growing, and the grand visions of liberal internationalism can proceed again. Now is the time to make sure the dragon is really dead.

The editorial writers have already written up an agenda for Angela Merkel and how she will reform the eurozone and the European Union. This, they say, is how she will build her legacy as a great European stateswoman. All the sensible people now recognize that the EU’s obvious defects of construction were the irritants that inflamed the populist revolt. (Why didn’t they recognize it before now? Oh, let’s not get bogged down in the past.) We can fix Europe.

Par exemple, the aspiring European superstate allows freedom of movement between member states, but it has no unified policy of border control, no body for controlling entry into the European Union. This problem is currently making the EU more unpopular by the day in Italy, which struggles to handle the inflow of migration across the Mediterranean. Then there are the big fiscal design problems. The EU has a central bank for the countries that use the euro currency, but these states have no united fiscal policy, and mechanisms for bailout or fiscal relief barely exist. Hence all that unpleasantness in Greece, Portugal, and Ireland a few years back.

Mujtaba Rahman, the managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy, cautions that much will depend on Merkel’s coalition partners, but lays out the conventional thinking this way:

After a rocky 12 months menaced by populist parties, core Europe suddenly feels as if it is on the march again. The arrival of Emmanuel Macron in the Elysée Palace, Brexit, the growing transatlantic divide and Angela Merkel’s likely reelection as chancellor have all provided sudden impetus to fire up the Franco-German motor and bolster the EU — especially the eurozone.

The generally accepted thesis is that everything depends on Macron. The French president will need to overhaul France’s labor markets and improve its fiscal situation as a pre-condition for any Franco-German cooperation over eurozone reforms.

Rahman is correct. I’ve heard as much from nearly a dozen European and American policymakers, diplomats, and influencers. Once Macron does his part to wean the French off their accreted worker protections and labor rules from the 20th century, a diplomat told me, Germany will have “the capacity” and “the opportunity” to reform Europe for the benefit of all.

Significantly, though, nobody says that Merkel will have a strong motive or incentive to do so. It is more of a plot device: How will European problems be solved? Macron will free the French economy and then there will be a Deus Ex Merkelna.

This story underestimates the European capacity for self-sabotage. Rahman says Europe was “menaced by populist parties.” What he is describing is actually voters and citizens expressing their dissatisfaction with the current leadership class of Europe. The high-handedness of Rahman’s judgment reflects the high-handedness of European leaders, the same quality that brought them to this crisis.

Rahman says Europe was ‘menaced by populist parties.’ What he is describing is actually voters and citizens expressing their dissatisfaction with the current leadership class of Europe.

It was under the current liberal internationalist management of the Union that David Cameron had to return to the British public and say that he’d won nothing from Brussels in pre-Brexit negotiations. No concessions on control of Britain’s borders, not even after Angela Merkel invited more than a million migrants to the heart of Europe in one year. Now the European Union is about to lose 10 percent of its annual budget when the United Kingdom leaves.

Why would Merkel reform the economic structure of the European Union, which has kept German living standards rising, the German middle class thriving, and German exports competitive in Europe and beyond? Out of sheer gratitude to Emmanuel Macron for doing what she believes is the right thing for France on its own terms?

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, gave his “state of the union” address last week. There was some mention of new financial structures for Europe, but far more important was his call for the dramatic expansion of the euro as the currency of the entire European Union. This expansion would further bolster the German model of widely shared prosperity within Germany.

It was Angela Merkel’s canny leadership for Germany that helped to create the populist mess throughout the rest of Europe. The lesson that she and German citizens have learned from all the political turmoil of the last decade is that Germany was right, and until Europe becomes more like Germany, the real Germany has to keep on dominating the Union and taking the biggest rake from the table for the service.

There is a good chance that Emmanuel Macron will not be able to reform the French labor market. And if the only hope for the liberal international order is Angela Merkel, it may be in worse shape than anyone thought.

READ MORE:

Germany Can Do Better than Angela Merkel

Against Free Speech: Merkel, May (and Macron)

Angela Merkel’s Foreign-Policy Ignorance

Most Popular

Elections

Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review

Farewell

Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
Culture

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More
Elections

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More
PC Culture

Defiant Dave Chappelle

When Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Sticks & Stones came out in August, the overwhelming response from critics was that it was offensive, unacceptable garbage. Inkoo Kang of Slate declared that Chappelle’s “jokes make you wince.” Garrett Martin, in the online magazine Paste, maintained that the ... Read More