05.10.2022

Populists captured Europe?

But now the situation has completely changed. An incredible coalition of populists, consisting of the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, the Minister of internal Affairs of Italy Matteo Salvini and the Federal Minister of internal Affairs of Germany Horst Seehofer, threatening to dismiss Merkel because of her immigration policy.

Trying to strengthen its position, Merkel has recently held a summit with President of France Emmanuel Macron at the castle Meseberg, near Berlin, where she agreed to the program of reforms of the European Union, which seemingly surpasses the wildest dreams of most europhiles.

However Mezhebitsky the summit looked more like a Franco-German Conclave than to restart the European project. Macron is trying to protect Merkel from rebellious forces within her own ruling coalition, with both leaders act as if they still are the masters of the universe. Meanwhile, despite all their talk about the transformation of the European stability mechanism into a European monetary Fund and about curbing the actions of the government of Italy in respect of refugees, it is impossible to shake the feeling that in reality this parade commanded by populists.

The era when Germany could resolve the European crisis, effectively taking political decisions in other EU countries, it seems, ended. In the current confrontation we are now Germany’s Merkel has turned into spielball (“ball game”). Decisions that can determine the fate of her government taken in Rome, Sofia and other capitals of the peripheral countries of the European Union.

As he writes in Project Syndicate, Director of the European Council on foreign relations mark Leonard, the most striking evidence of this shift in the balance of power was the willingness of the Merkel meeting with orbán at the EU summit in early July, and just three months later, after she refused to congratulate him on his re-election.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed, with the condition of the interior Minister Horst Seehofer in a dispute on the issue of combating illegal migration. Moreover, the parties announced the agreement of a plan, the contents of which will be known only after the EU summit.

In recent years, several factors changed the game in European politics.

First, the Christian social Union Seehofer (it is the party of Bavaria, a mass of the Christian democratic Union Merkel) is preparing to fight back far-right “Alternative for Germany” in regional elections in October this year. CSU regularly invited Orban to their party meetings and Seehofer supported him in close contact throughout the refugee crisis.

Second, Kurtz is in a coalition with the populist Austrian freedom party – recently announced that a change in the EU’s migration policy will be a key priority for Austria during its presidency in the Council of the European Union. Thirdly, in early June, the Italian “five star Movement” and far-right party “League” Salvini formed a government which brought together two very different forms of populism. Thus, they created for the far-left populists that oppose policies to reduce government spending, and extreme right-wing populist opposed to migration, the sample, in order to form similar alliances in other EU countries, including Germany.

As Minister of internal Affairs, Salvini has taken a tough stance on migration issues, in particular, refusing to accept ships with refugees are rescued in the Mediterranean sea. His methods inspire Seehofer and Kurtz (and they were always opportunists) more emphasis on their own immigration proposals.

As Minister of internal Affairs of Germany, Seehofer wants to begin the rollout of all applicants for asylum who are already registered in other EU countries. This led him to clash with Merkel, who prefers to work out an agreement at EU level to restore order to the asylum system in Europe.

In early June, just as the cause of the conflict between Merkel and Seehofer, Kurz came to Berlin, where he called Austria, Hungary, Italy and Germany (at least in the person of its Minister of internal Affairs) to form the “axis of good will” to solve the problem of migration. Kurtz tried to undermine Merkel in the beginning of 2016, when he was Minister for foreign Affairs of Austria. Appearing live on German television, he announced that he would prefer to close the Balkan route for refugees traveling from Syria to the countries of Northern Europe.

Merkel was able to reflect that earlier attempt to interfere in the internal Affairs of the country. But today, the divisions within Europe and Germany widened, and she needs to find a way to bridge over the growing gap. For example, while Dutch Prime Minister mark Rutte actively opposed “transfer Union” in the Eurozone, Merkel agreed in principle to the proposal of the Macron to create a common budget for the Eurozone.

Germany was trapped between the “budget responsible” Hanseatic League (the Nordic countries), immigrant Visegrad group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and the forces opposing the policy of reducing government spending in the southern countries of the Eurozone. In the old days of strong, visionary Chancellor could take advantage of the fact that all these different currents are represented on the German political scene. And, moreover, after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Merkel was able to achieve a political compromise in Germany, who worked then on the continent.

But the key difference between that time and the present is that the US government is no longer interested in a strong, United Europe – and indeed in global stability. After the annexation of Crimea, Merkel could count on the support of then-US President Barack Obama. But the same cannot be said about President Donald trump or Richard Grenelle, which trump was appointed Ambassador to Germany: both actively try to undermine the credibility of Merkel within the country.

Of course, Merkel is not ready to write off. In 13 years in power, it has proven incredible resilience and the ability to besiege ambitious men macho. Seehofer, the Kurtz, Salvini, Orban and Trump shouldn’t underestimate her.

However, Europe is at a critical crossroads. Those who support the deepening of integration and openness, wasted a lot of time until the populists and nationalists mobilized. After the summit of Macron and Merkel in the Meseberg castle can only guess how well they are prepared for a long siege.

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