Are we witnessing "the twilight of Angela Merkel"? The question, asked Tuesday in Le Figaro"s lead editorial, is on everybody's mind, both inside and outside Germany. To be sure, in her 12 years as German Chancellor, Merkel has never been as vulnerable as she now appears to be. The collapse of post-election talks to form a coalition with the liberal party FDP and the Green party have revealed Merkel and her own party's showing in the September vote for what it really was: a Pyrrhic victory.
Foreseeing a possible "miserable ending", Der Spiegel"s columnist Jakob Augstein writes that "the woman who, like no other, has stood for stability and predictability has maneuvered herself into a hopeless situation. Because she could not let go of power in time, she will now experience how it is to see it slip through her fingers."
But the focus on Merkel and the intra-party negotiations as a mere ego-driven tussle risks missing the bigger picture. What is at stake with the future German government extends well beyond one woman's personal legacy and affects the whole of Europe, if not more.
What stood at the center of the coalition talks were real issues, with real-world consequences. Chief among them was immigration. Much like in the rest of Europe, the anti-immigration movement in on the rise in Germany, a fact most visible by the entry of a far-right party, the AfD, in the German Parliament for the first time since World War II. There is now a sort of consensus in Germany that any future government that refuses to take into account people's concerns about the effects of immigration will be exposing itself, and the country, to a far more extremist alternative gaining ever more ground at the next election.
What is at stake with the future German government extends well beyond one woman's personal legacy.
Just how far the government can or should go in its attempts to stem the influx of migrants is a question the three parties engaged in coalition talks were unable to agree on. Whatever the outcome, whether Berlin opts for more or less drastic measures will send an important signal throughout Europe.
Environmental policy was another source of genuine antagonism in the coalition talks — more particularly the issue of a planned elimination of coal power in the coming years. Though the country is often described as a model for green political action, Germany's energy mix still relies heavily on coal, all the more so since the 2011 Fukushima disaster and Merkel's subsequent decision to phase out nuclear energy. As Deutsche Welle reported on Monday, Germany is set to miss its 2020 target for CO2 emissions' reduction and it will likely miss the goals it pledged two years ago at the Paris Climate Conference.
Germany's reliance on coal was plain to see at the UN climate conference that ended this weekend in Bonn, where it refused to join a 20-country alliance led by Canada and the UK that pledges to rapidly phase out coal. Besides the signal it sends to other countries, such discrepancy between its public stance and its actions is like music to the ears of Donald Trump and the like.
Will Merkel be able to form a coalition? What price will be paid in the process? As melodramatic as it may sound, the future of the planet is always on the negotiating table — and in the voting booth.