Merkel's secret of success
Angela Merkel is a phenomenon of German politics. A scientist physicist with Polish roots from the family of a Lutheran pastor became the first woman and a native of the GDR to lead the government of the united Germany, 12 times became the most influential woman in the world according to Forbes magazine, and in terms of the length of stay in power is slightly inferior only to her fellow party member, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The secret of Merkel's success and political longevity, devoid of a bright appearance and oratorical gift, lies in her pragmatism and ability to find a common language with various people, get their trust.
The now deceased Kohl knew firsthand how his protégé could walk over corpses. Merkel's successful political career was not without his participation. In 1991, Kohl appointed a young woman from East Germany to the post of Minister of Youth Affairs among the newly elected CDU members in the Bundestag. Then Merkel was jokingly called "Kohl's girl." However, following the defeat of the CDU in the 1998 elections and media reports of illegal party financing during Kohl's rule, Merkel criticized her boss in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in order to save her reputation and the party's image. Kohl spoke of her as a snake. As head of the CDU, Merkel surrounded herself with loyalists and deprived Kohl's supporters of the leverage.
Merkel's foreign policy can be described as a balance between European integration, cooperation with the United States and NATO, and rapprochement with Russia and China. Under Merkel, Germany has evolved from a Cold War political dwarf and satellite of the United States to a global player which opinion matters. As the largest economy in the eurozone, Germany has not the least influence on the development of European integration processes. Merkel, along with the French leadership, advocates for the EU's transformation into a self-sufficient global player in security matters and for reducing dependence on the United States and NATO for security issues. The German Chancellor supports the idea of forming a military alliance within the EU and the European army.
Merkel does not support the United States on all issues. She did not support the NATO military operation in Libya, initiated by President Barack Obama in 2011, the demand of his successor Donald Trump to increase defense spending as soon as possible in 2017. The signing and entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which strengthened the role of EU supranational bodies in decision-making, introduced the post of High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, was influenced by Germany and France.
Merkel's foreign policy imprint postponed her formation in the GDR, where her family moved from Hamburg when she was a child. The chancellor views communist China and post-Soviet Russia as partners rather than as a threat. The current chancellor makes any decision, starting from figures and facts, looking for concrete economic benefits and for this is ready to sacrifice ideological attitudes and democratic values.
For example, Germany criticizes the violation of human rights by the Chinese Communist Party in Tibet and Hong Kong, but supports the conclusion of an investment agreement between the EU and China. Germany has entered into an agreement with telecommunications company Huawei to install equipment for 5G networks, despite US suspicions that it could be used for intelligence purposes. The German chancellor promoted the interests of the German financial company Wirecard in China, which, as it turned out, was engaged in fraud.
Achievements and mistakes
The Merkel government is credited with Germany's economic success. Today it is the fourth economy in the world, and its GDP from 2005 to 2020 increased from 2.84 to 3.80 billion dollars. Merkel's government achieved a reduction in unemployment from 11 to 3.4%, a decrease in external debt and budget deficit, and an increase in the pace of economic growth from 0.5 to 1.6% per year. In Germany, 6 million new jobs have appeared. According to a survey by Deutsche Bank, employees of 40% of German companies even fear that Merkel's departure from politics will entail a decrease in the competitiveness of German exports.
Merkel has set the stage for a European Green Deal plan for decarbonization, renewable energy and initiatives to reduce dependence on nuclear energy. After the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011, she ordered the closure of 8 of the 17 operating nuclear power plants in Germany. Today, 45.4% of electricity in Germany is produced by wind farms, biogas plants and other renewable energy facilities. From 2006 to 2019, the amount of electricity generated by nuclear power plants in the EU member states decreased by 16.3%. In 2015, Germany signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Protection and the Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions into the Atmosphere.
However, the Chancellor has been criticized for not paying enough attention to modernizing the economy, introducing high technology and artificial intelligence. This is especially true of the automotive industry, sharpened for the production of cars with an internal combustion engine, which the EU plans to ban by 2035. In Germany, there are no electric car manufacturers of the same level as the American Tesla. Unlike Germany, the US plans to spend 250 billion dollars on research in the field of high technology and the production of microchips. The German "greens" consider the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere up to 55%, envisaged by Merkel's plan, insufficient.
Merkel made rash decisions and made mistakes with long lasting consequences for all of Europe. The role of Merkel in resolving the financial crisis in the eurozone was controversial. Germany has pushed for austerity measures in Greece and other southern European countries to reduce the budget deficit instead of temporarily excluding them from the euro area. Debtor governments have had to cut spending on social security amid rising unemployment rates. This approach was perceived in the societies of the Mediterranean countries as an attempt by Germany to impose their will on them.
One of the reasons for the EU migration crisis was the short-sightedness of the German Chancellor. Merkel recognizes the crisis of the policy of multiculturalism, opposes Turkey's accession to the EU, which is culturally and religiously alien. However, in 2015, she opened Germany's borders to refugees from Syria and other Muslim countries. In one year, 1 million people received refugee status in Germany. She welcomed the European Commission's plan to resettle refugees from Italy and Greece according to quotas in each of the EU member states. Crowds of illegal immigrants flooded the streets of European cities on their way to Germany. In European countries, there has been a surge in crimes involving illegal immigrants. The open-door policy proposed by Merkel was received with hostility by the authorities of Hungary and Poland, and in Germany and other European countries, the activity of ultra-right radicals and populists increased.
Merkel's policy on resolving the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is controversial. Her merit is the allocation of large from the state budget to keep German companies afloat during quarantine. However, it is not yet clear how to reimburse the costs. Germany spends more on overcoming the consequences of the coronavirus than other European countries. In December 2020, losses from lockdowns and measures to support German businesses and citizens were projected at around $ 1.6 trillion.
Merkel and Ukraine
Long before the independence of Ukraine, political and expert circles in Germany were interested in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. German geopolitician Friedrich Naumann in 1915 proposed the idea of integrating Germany and Central-Eastern Europe ("Mitteleurope") into a single bloc, and German chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt in the 70s established relations with the countries of the Eastern bloc ("Ostpolitik"). The pragmatic Merkel, who until 2014 considered German-Ukrainian relations purely on the economic plane, was no exception. From 2005 to 2020, the trade turnover between Ukraine and Germany increased from $ 4.5 billion to $ 8.5 billion.
Germany ranks fourth in terms of investment in Ukraine. The Germans invest mainly in the pharmaceutical industry, logistics, wholesale and retail trade. In 2020, the capital investment of German companies amounted to $ 1.7 billion. German business is attracted by a cheap but skilled labor force in Ukraine. The liberalization of the migration regime by the Merkel government and the stake on attracting labor force from other countries turned out to be very useful for Ukrainian labor migrants. There is a shortage of skilled workers in German industry. In total, at least 400 thousand labor migrants are required per year. From 2018 to 2020, the number of Ukrainian migrants in Germany increased from 43 to 138 thousand. Most of the Ukrainians work as laborers in German cities.
However, Merkel did not see Ukraine as part of the Euro-Atlantic civilization. In 2008, the German chancellor did not support the provision of an action plan for NATO membership to Ukraine and stressed that the Association Agreement with the EU is not a condition for joining the bloc. Ukraine has become hostage to Merkel's overly pragmatic foreign policy. Russia is a more valuable partner, which, unlike Ukraine, can provide the German industry with affordable energy resources. In order not to spoil relations with Russia, Merkel takes into account its interests. The Kremlin does not welcome the expansion of the EU and NATO to the East. Germany's interest in cooperation with Russia was reflected in the policies of the EU and NATO, which until 2014 perceived their eastern neighbor as a partner. The idea of a visa-free regime for the Russian Federation was even exaggerated.
The annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in Donbas somewhat puzzled the German chancellor and made her support the introduction of EU sanctions against Russia. Merkel supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, advocates Russia's observance of international law and is directly involved in the settlement of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine in the "Normandy format". However, the long-term interests of German business have remained unchanged. Germany refrained from tightening anti-Russian sanctions and providing weapons to the Ukrainian army, despite the fact that the Kremlin's line of conduct remained unchanged.
The Nord Stream 2 situation confirms the fact that Merkel puts German economic interests ahead of risks to European security. It is cheaper for the German Chancellor to jointly with the United States invest $ 1 billion in the development of Ukrainian green energy as a condition for completing the construction of the Russian gas pipeline, in which $ 11 billion was invested. The Chancellor's double standards have emerged in Ukraine. In 1999, as an opposition politician, Merkel supported the NATO bombing in Yugoslavia, and in 2003 - the US invasion of Iraq, arguing the need for military intervention to prevent large-scale conflicts and crimes against humanity. In the case of the annexation of Crimea by Russia, which resembles the annexation of the Czechoslovak Sudetenland by Nazi Germany in 1938, her reaction is clearly at odds with the beliefs of the past.
Merkel's departure from politics does not mean the end of the era of "Merkelism" for Ukraine - a pragmatic political course, which features centrism, reliance on alliances, commitment to European integration, transatlantic relations, combined with indecision in terms of any changes. Merkel failed to radically reconsider relations with Russia due to her unwillingness to lose a valuable partner. If it managed to effectively cooperate with Russia to the detriment of Ukraine's interests and contrary to the policy of sanctions, then the likely heirs of Social Democrat Olaf Scholz or Christian Democrat Armin Laschet will act in a similar way. There is no point in hoping that with Merkel's retirement, German foreign policy will turn 180 degrees.