Judy Asks: Can Merkel survive the refugee crisis?

Opinion piece (Carnegie Europe)
Christian Odendahl, Sophia Besch
21 October 2015

Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

 Yes, she can—and she will.

Those who predict Angela Merkel’s downfall make two arguments. First, they claim that the German chancellor has been uncharacteristically bold during the refugee crisis, setting herself up for failure. However, Merkel’s approach is safely rooted in her usual crisis management strategy—waiting for a public consensus to materialize, weighing her political options, and working on a pragmatic solution.

For example, she has counterbalanced her welcoming stance on the refugees with a proposal for controversial transit zones at German borders. In addition, she is protecting German interests in Ankara and Brussels. This is a realist covering all her bases, not the work of a naive visionary.

Second, Merkel doomsayers argue that the refugee crisis is threatening her popularity and support from within her Christian Democratic Union party and its Bavarian sister group, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Yet, a drop in her public approval rating still puts Merkel at 54–70 percent, according to recent polls. In line with traditional party tactics, the CSU’s leaders cater to the anxieties of Germany’s more conservative constituencies, while she firmly holds the center ground.

A few rebelling members of parliament are an accepted part of a strategy that aims to cover the entire political spectrum to the right of the center. Merkel’s unique position in German politics remains as yet uncontested, leaving German voters with no alternative but to continue to support her.

Christian Odendahl is chief economist and Sophia Besch is a Clara Marina O’Donnell fellow at the Centre for European Reform.