22nd Mar 2018

Visual Data

The Merkelisation of Europe

  • Angela Merkel's trademark hand pose. The German chancellor has led Germany for 12 years. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Angela Merkel, often described as the EU's most powerful leader, is running for a fourth time in Germany's federal elections on Sunday (24 September).

In her time as German chancellor, there have been a number of drastic changes across Europe. But, from the moment she took office twelve years ago, Brussels couldn't have been disappointed.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Die Welt described Merkel's "astonishing skill" in handling European strategy. (Photo: CDU)

Die Welt described her "astonishing skill" in handling European strategy. The Financial Times already declared the EU novice, who had been chancellor for barely a few weeks, as "Lady Europe".

The Berliner Zeitung heralded Merkel as the "new star in the European flag" after her first EU summit in December 2005.

Still, on that occasion, the heads of state and government only managed to agree on what they would pay into the next EU budget: a little more than one percent of their countries' GDPs.

It was a minimum compromise typical of Brussels: the worst was avoided, but many pressing questions were left to one side - such as dismantling the outrageous agricultural subsidies or establishing common economic, security and defence policies.

EU saviour

However, after the summit, it seemed as if no praise was too high. "Our chancellor saves the EU summit virtually single-handed," proclaimed Germany's Bild newspaper, asking: "Why can Merkel always get what she wants in the end?"

Since then, many have been asking themselves the same thing.

In July 2015, Merkel forced through her hard line on austerity measures in the decisive summit on the Greek debt crisis.

The chancellor, it seemed, stood at the height of her powers - and felt to be in a strong enough position to bring her European partners around to her position on the refugee crisis.

Nevertheless, on this issue - which the otherwise cool-headed Merkel described as a matter of her heart - she had reached her limits.

With virtually no coordination with the other member states, she opened Germany's borders in summer 2015 - and hoped to come to an agreement over the sharing of refugees within the EU afterwards.

But one national leader after another rejected Merkel's leadership, while she let border guards wave refugees through to Germany. The result? By far the most asylum requests were made in Germany.

Merkel subsequently resorted to a tried-and-tested method: she saw the writing on the wall and drew as little attention as possible to her change in position.

In this case, that meant avoiding any radical change in her rhetoric while, in real political terms, falling in line with the hardliners on migration: the borders were closed.

EU officials admit behind closed doors, with gritted teeth, that Hungary's hard-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, defeated Merkel on this point.

The result? Although the number of asylum applications still rose last year - above all, because of the months-long administrative process required - the number of new arrivals into Germany fell sharply.

The federal government now wants a "national effort" to repatriate thousands of people who are still in Germany despite having their asylum requests rejected.

Up until now, Germany was rather more reluctant to do so than the rest of the EU:

In fact, new figures show that the national effort has, at least until now, had no discernible impact.

There is no sign of a strong uptake in repatriations:

However, the fallout of the border opening in 2015 can be seen in current polling.

The AfD will most likely enter the German parliament with a two-digit percentage of the vote - and Merkel will have to deal with the reproach that her migration policies have paved the way for a boost to right-wing populists.

A further critique of Merkel is of having caused a rift within the EU through her tough austerity measures against southern Europe.

This critique has become much less vocal since the economies of formerly crisis-struck countries - like Spain and Portugal - started to grow again, and when even Greece can once again raise money on the debt markets.

In one other respect, however, criticism of Germany could well grow louder - when it comes to its balance of payments.

As positive as these figures may appear when viewed out of context, the more problematic they are in comparison to the rest of the EU.

Germany's balance of payments has grown into a massive surplus in exports, which, for 15 years now, has been far beyond the other EU countries.

And, in the past few years, the gap has grown ever wider.

Germany is now ever more harshly criticised for this imbalance.

Yet, domestically, the problem has only started to be taken seriously since US president Donald Trump came out with threats and insults.

In the meantime, news of record export levels were also soberly discussed in Germany.

But there is still no change in sight. Last year, surplus exports totalled over $300 billion, putting Germany in first place - well ahead of China, whose balance of payments surplus will shrink over the coming years, according to IMF forecasts. Germany's surplus, however, is set to climb ever higher.

Nevertheless, Berlin has responded to international criticism regarding another matter: Germany's defence spending is now increasing.

In 2014, Nato members agreed at a summit in Wales to increase their spending to two percent of their GDP by the year 2020.

When comparing between the EU members states, it is clear that Germany is far below the leaders, with its spending totalling 1.2 percent of GDP.

In this case, economic growth is also becoming a problem for the federal government: in absolute figures, military expenditure is rising, but its share of a growing GDP is staying almost stable.

An increase of two percent would mean upping expenditure from around €37 billion today to around €70 billion.

In comparison: France's military currently spends around €40 billion, and that is including an expensive nuclear arsenal. Even Russia only spends an estimated €60 billion per year on its armed forces.

Correspondingly large is the scepticism of foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) in regard to the two-percent Nato defence spending target, and even within Merkel's CDU there are serious doubts.

One of them is that EU countries would be anything but enthusiastic if Germany became a dominant military power in the centre of the EU, alongside its economic power.

Many fear that Europe's trust - even after twelve years of Merkel - still has its limits.

This article was produced by the Spiegel Online as part of the European Data Journalism Network and translated by Simon Pickstone from VoxEurop.

The European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet) is a new platform for data-driven news on European affairs brought to you in up to 12 languages by a consortium of media and data journalists from all over Europe, which includes EUobserver.


The rise of the German alt-right

Ahead of Sunday's German elections, a growing number of anti-establishment, anti-Islam websites have created an echo chamber for the radical right.

Schulz mauls Merkel as German vote nears

Merkel has “lost touch” with ordinary people, does not know how to handle Dieselgate, and is too soft on Turkey, her main election rival has said.


Merkel-Macron: An EU motor in the making

Merkel's re-election is expected to revive the Franco-German EU motor, but the German leader and France's new ruler are still searching for a common vision.

Merkel survives election 'earthquake'

Christian-democrat leader set to rule Germany together with liberals and greens, but with a new troublemaker - the AfD party - on the scene.


The populists may have won, but Italy won't leave the euro

The situation as Rome tries to form a government is turbulent and unpredictable. However, the most extreme eurosceptic policies floated during the election campaign are unlikely to happen - not least due to the precarious state of the Italian banks.

Far-right parties re-register to access EU funds

After missing a funding deadline, the far-right nationalist Alliance for Peace and Freedom and the Alliance of European National Movements are back in the game and possibly eligible for EU money in 2019.

News in Brief

  1. Finland pays billionaire €400,000 in EU farm subsidies
  2. 44 leaders sign up for Africa free trade area deal
  3. British 'blue' passports to be made in EU
  4. EU to have 'immediate' trade talks with Trump
  5. Separatist activist renounces Catalonia leadership candidacy
  6. EU puts conditions on Bayer-Monsanto merger
  7. Hard Brexit would hit poorer Irish households hardest
  8. Finland hosts secretive North Korean talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  2. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  3. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  4. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  5. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  6. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions
  7. EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints
  8. Five east European states prevent new CAP consensus

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CECEIndustry Stakeholders Are Ready to Take the Lead in Digital Construction
  2. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  3. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementEuropean Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  6. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  7. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementSuing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name