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Why Merkel’s victory may bring good news to our region

Sep 26,2017 - Last updated at Sep 26,2017

Angela Merkel, Germany’s iron lady, was handed a historic fourth term by voters on Sunday, but her triumph was overshadowed by the entrance of the nationalist far right into the Bundestag for the first time since the end of World War II.

The relatively new party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), won around 13 per cent of the votes, crossing the mandatory threshold of 5 per cent to enter the lower house, and became the third largest party and the de facto opposition.

By contrast, Merkel’s party, the ruling centre right Christian Democratic Union, had its worst performance since it was founded in 1949.

The centre left Social Democratic Party (SPD) came a distant second.

For the conventionally predictable, some might say tedious, German politics, Sunday’s results delivered a big shock to the system.

The AfD’s rise was expected by observers in the wake of Merkel’s decision to welcome more than a million asylum seekers and refugees, mainly from Syria and Iraq, in 2015.

The AfD’s anti-immigrant and anti-Islam platform gained momentum, as the country struggled to absorb refugees and later became a target of Islamist-related acts of terrorism.

Now Merkel will try to form a coalition government, either with her previous partners, the SPD, or with smaller parties, such as the Greens and the Free Democrats.

Having the AfD in the opposition will transform the traditional political discourse and will eventually test some of Merkel’s most concrete policies on Europe, immigration, globalisation and multilateralism.

The AfD’s leap to the centre stage of German politics notwithstanding, Merkel’s victory cannot be underestimated.

It is good news for a united Europe that is still recovering from the repercussions of economic stagnation, the backlash of the immigrant crisis, Brexit and homegrown terrorism.

Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron are now the two leaders expected to carry out much-needed EU reforms and, by extension, redefine Europe’s role and mission on the world stage.

Merkel is seen by a growing number of European politicians as the natural heir to an America that has gone astray following the unexpected election of Donald Trump as president last November.

Trump’s pre-election anti-globalisation, anti-EU and anti-NATO rhetoric had a sobering effect on a Europe that had become both complacent and reliant on US global leadership.

Trump’s “America First” slogan was buffered by his controversial anti-immigrant executive orders, travel bans, withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and his vow to renegotiate international trade deals.

So Merkel may now find herself a reluctant leader of the Free World and she is in a good position to fill that role.

Germany’s economy remains strong and Berlin is the true centre of European politics. It is there that the future of the EU will be decided.

More importantly for our troubled region, a strong and stable Europe can fill a vacuum that a recoiling US is creating.

Merkel’s stand on Islam, human rights and her unwavering opposition of far-right ultranationalist movements at home and across Europe will be essential in the coming years.

Germany has become a major political player in the region; German troops may soon be stationed in Jordan, relocating from Turkey’s Incirlik airbase. 

EU countries have contributed fighter jets and soldiers to the US-led anti-Daesh coalition.

Berlin is expected to keep the nuclear deal with Iran intact if Trump decides to unilaterally withdraw from the international agreement.

Merkel and Macron can provide a more pragmatic approach to resolving regional crises, including Iran, Syria, Libya and the most recent one, Kurdistan.

Moreover, with US-Russian relations at their worst since the Cold War, Germany, in particular, and the EU, in general, can and should keep communication channels open with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s political and military resurgence poses a genuine challenge for Europe and the rest of the world, and so far, the US has not been able to respond to Moscow’s growing influence on the global stage.

As the US tries one more time to hammer together a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, the latter look to Europe for even handedness and justice.

At a time when Israel’s own far-right government unleashes the most aggressive wave of settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, effectively erasing the prospect of an independent Palestine, it is Europe that can put real pressure on defiant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Germany’s historical sensitivity towards Israel will be tested as the Israeli prime minister pushes forward with unilateral plans to annex most of the West Bank.

But perhaps Merkel’s biggest contribution will come in the form of presenting Europe as an example of tolerance, openness, multi-culturalism and economic success.

As the US engages in internal battles over isolationism, xenophobia, alt-right politics and race relations, a moderate and outreaching Europe can fill the void and Merkel will be the one to do it.

 

 

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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