Why Many Germans Don't See Merkel As a Hero in the Refugee Crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends her annual summer news conference in Berlin, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Gero Br
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends her annual summer news conference in Berlin, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)
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It is an irony of fate: Chancellor Merkel has often been accused of not having a vision for her country. Now that she has been showing one, allegedly for the first time since taking office in 2005, voters appear shocked, distancing themselves from her more and more each day. In her dealings with the refugees, Merkel has embraced the stubbornness and assertiveness often said to be crucial for a stateswoman to enforce her policies effectively.

In evaluating political decisions, there is always an ex-ante view which is decisively distinct from the ex-post view. After a political strategy plays out well, success often seems to have been planned with profound foresight and ethical awareness. Yet at the beginning of a series of events -- that is, ex-ante -- the outcomes of one's plans are uncertain and therefore so is the destiny of the statesman, the CEO, the inventor and the activist alike. The road to success is always plagued by all sorts of potholes and hindrances.

At the beginning of September, Angela Merkel granted humanitarian aid to refugees, allowing them to continue their journey into Germany after their trains were stopped at the Austria-Hungary border. By the end of the month, some 170,000 had arrived. She could not have possibly foreseen all the implications that arose from that decision, but to almost every political observer in Germany something worse became clear: she didn't have a plan for how to proceed once the refugees arrived on German soil. And as long as the way immigration will play out in German politics and society remains uncertain, there will be plenty of interest groups and rivals that will try to make capital out of the uncertainty. The range of Merkel's antagonists is ample, but at this point her conservative colleagues are giving her the hardest time.

As the German public's support for the chancellor's refugee position declines, the support from her Christian Democratic Union party declines apace. The Bavarian offshoot of the conservatives withdrew their allegiance early on in the crisis and have begun associating with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Recently, the number of dissidents reached new highs in Parliament and in the individual states. Julia Klöckner, for instance, the leader of the CDU in Rheinland-Palatinate (a state in the southwest of Germany), claimed that hundreds of women have come forward with complaints about Muslim men.

From the sheer number of politicians now distancing themselves from the chancellor, one can conclude that they see at hand the fall of Merkel rather than a new rise.

This problem cannot be the result of Germans admitting their need for well-trained and educated Syrian men to join the nation's workforce. Rather, the public outcry against Merkel's admission of refugees reflects the anti-Muslim sentiment that has been growing since 9/11 in Europe.

As much as all political parties to some extent generally support the chancellor, they all know that how she handles the crisis now will define their stances on immigration in the next election. There is even the slight chance that Merkel will ask for a vote of confidence (Vertrauensfrage) in order to legitimize her stance on the issue. With the next federal election not until 2017, the populace may demand to be asked if it approves the government's measures.

The opposition in the German Bundestag is tiny since the two largest parties form the governing coalition, so now Die Grünen (the Greens) and Die Linke (the Left) could be tempted to present themselves as the disgruntled voice of the people in Parliament. This may already be happening: the liberals excluded from this Parliament have already made clear that they expect the government to articulate clear rules for immigrants to follow if they wish to be granted asylum.

The liberals, traditionally the party of civil rights, are also using the refugee crisis to promote their causes by, for example, demanding immigrants accept gay and gender rights to gain asylum. The liberals' chairman, Christian Lindner, has already pointed out that it is the immigrants who would have to adapt to the social order of the country, not vice-versa. As German media spread stories about Muslim asylum seekers who beat Christian refugees, spit at Christians and even abuse women and children for being Christian, much of the public wonders how these newcomers will ever accept a predominantly Christian population and its notions of religious freedom.

If the chancellor falls, she will be falling over her own conviction.

As if this weren't enough for Merkel to handle, President Joachim Gauck has finally weighed in: empathy may be infinite but not the resources of Germany. So now he, too, has distanced himself from the chancellor, and in recent weeks, he has become an outspoken advocate of the "Willkommenskultur." Separate from the executive body in the German political system, the president carries huge weight with the German public.

From the sheer number of politicians now distancing themselves from the chancellor, one can conclude that they see at hand the fall of Merkel rather than a new rise. They want to be prepared for all eventualities. For Merkel's rivals, her decision was crude and ill-advised, as if it was obvious how her decision would play out. But this is just an ex-post view; ex-ante, they would never have dared to dissent on this scale.

If the chancellor falls, she will be falling over her own conviction. As she recently pointed out: if Germany were the country where you had to apologize for showing empathy, it wouldn't be her land anymore. She may not have made the remark in earnest, but it may mark a bitter turning point of her chancellorship and another irony of fate after all.

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