A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


Cornelius AdebahrAssociate in Carnegie’s Europe Program

A trench is emerging over the #refugee question.
Tweet This

A trench is emerging, both in Germany and in Europe, over the refugee question—eagerly picked up by an American political class in campaign mode. The irony is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the uninspiring political chameleon of the past, in 2015 eventually came out with a vision of a compassionate Europe opening up to today’s huddled masses from a war-torn Middle East. She didn’t get much support from her EU colleagues then, most of them preferring to shut people out rather than find practical ways of managing their influx.

With the appalling sexual assaults on women in Cologne (and other European cities) now making a furor, a collective “told you so” is echoing across the continent. It is particularly disgraceful that some Central European leaders seem to take their cues from xenophobic populists in Germany. What happened on New Year’s Eve wasn’t inevitable and could have been prevented by more alert authorities. Better policing, stricter application of existing rules, and greater efforts at integration can go a long way before capitulating to supposed primordial cultural differences. Most importantly, in a country that has openly debated the pitfalls of integration for more than a decade, with anti-Muslim books as national best sellers, the idea of an officially steered discourse bent on silencing criticism of foreigners is absurd.

What Merkel’s opponents propose is a Europe as archaic as the (alleged) mind-sets they lament in those coming to our shores. Who’s losing Europe then?


Noah BarkinReuters bureau chief for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland

Without a doubt, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s standing in Europe has taken a hit because of her handling of the refugee crisis. Her welcoming stance of “We can do it” is seen as naive, not only in Central Europe, but also by close partners like France, which is still reeling from the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris and is not in the mood for solidarity on the migrant issue. The mass assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve have deepened the skepticism.

This isn't the first time #Merkel has looked isolated in Europe.
Tweet This

This isn’t the first time Merkel has looked isolated in Europe. Her insistence on austerity during the eurozone crisis was opposed by the bloc’s other big member states. The difference this time is that Germany’s economic and financial clout, which convinced its partners to get in line on the euro, is not helping Berlin get its way in the current crisis.

Ultimately, Merkel’s position in Europe will depend on how strong she is at home. If she shows Germans that the criminals from Cologne are being punished with the full force of the law, and if the flow of migrants into Germany slows in the months ahead, she can weather the current political storm. That would bolster her chances of keeping an increasingly divided Europe together. But the continued influx of migrants, more violence of the kind seen in Cologne, or a militant attack on German soil could hobble her at home, further weakening her influence in Europe.

It is difficult to imagine Europe without Merkel’s leadership right now. Her refusal to shut German borders is based in large part on concerns about what would happen to Europe if the Schengen passport-free zone collapsed. So even if Merkel is losing Europe, Europe may want to pray it does not lose Merkel.


Marta DassùEditor in chief of Aspenia and senior director for European affairs at the Aspen Institute

The question to ask first is whether Chancellor Angela Merkel is already losing Germany as a result of her generous refugee policy set against the sexual assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. She is not, in my view. In fact, ironically enough, the growth in the polls of the populist Alternative for Germany, which is currently at around the 8 percent mark, could bolster Merkel’s grand coalition.

What Europe needs to fear is a weak #Germany, not a strong one.
Tweet This

Having said that, it is true that Merkel is now weaker than she was before. From the Volkswagen emissions scandal to the taharrush gamea in Cologne, it’s been a pretty black few months for Berlin’s leadership. But the fact is that what Europe needs to fear is a weak Germany, not a strong one.

When Germany is weak, centrifugal thrusts increase. The clash with Central European countries over migrants is even more radical than the earlier clash with Southern European countries over austerity. Does this mean that Merkel is losing Europe? No, but she can keep Europe only on three conditions: first, that Germany manages to successfully conclude renegotiations with London on Britain’s EU membership, which will in any case produce an EU with a much more differentiated internal structure; second, that Europe’s economic recovery proves solid, even if low and slow; and third, that France and Italy maintain their close relationships with Berlin, despite Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s temptation to dispute Germany’s leadership.

If those three conditions are met, Merkel may lose (indeed, she is already losing) a part of the EU, but she won’t lose the continent’s most important countries. At a time of great uncertainty, this will be no minor achievement for the most skilled and experienced leader in Europe.


Martin EhlJournalist with Czech daily Hospodářské noviny

Reactions to recent events in Germany tend to show that Chancellor Angela Merkel is losing ground with her open-arms approach to the refugees fleeing the war-torn Middle East. Two of the most solid German public institutions, the police and the media, have been heavily discredited. Meanwhile, debates about the language of political correctness hide the fact that refugees may have been involved in sexual assaults on women on New Year’s Eve in Cologne.

Germany, as well as the rest of Europe, is already shaken enough by the financial, Ukraine, refugee, and Brexit crises that voters might look for political solutions that give them back a sense of security and predictability. In 2016, Germany will have five regional elections, which will be a real test of the chancellor’s policies, for her and her party.

#Merkel is losing allies in Central Europe due to the #refugeecrisis.
Tweet This

Due to the refugee crisis, Merkel is definitely losing allies in Central Europe. Since her decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees and the assaults in Cologne, governments in Prague, Warsaw, Bratislava, and Budapest do not understand German policy. All post-Communist Central European countries had followed Germany’s EU policy for the last two decades, up to the refugee crisis, when a total breakdown happened.

In periods of crisis, countries tend to go back to the old familiarity of nationalism and protectionism. The faster Germany can restore its own stability and handle the refugee crisis, the faster it will help rebalance the illiberal shift taking place in Central Europe.


Fredrik ErixonDirector of the European Centre for International Political Economy

There is a German word to answer that question—jein—which means both yes and no. Power is never permanent in politics. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s role as Europe’s leader had a context: economic and political turbulence in other EU powers while Germany had the requisite stability, patience, and economic strength for leadership. Now that this context is changing, both in Germany and in other EU countries, Merkel’s role will change too.

#Merkel's policy is often neither here nor there.
Tweet This

However, her style of politics is not on the way out. While Merkel’s determined political leadership was critical to avoid a breakup of the eurozone, her contribution to most other issues has been anything but determined. It is often difficult to figure out what she, or Germany, wants, until events force her to make up her mind. Her policy is often neither here nor there. “Right in the middle of a contradiction, that’s the place to be,” said American playwright Sam Shepard. That is also a summary of Merkelism.

Like jein, expressing contradictory preferences, German leadership in Europe has been ambiguous. Since the 2013 German federal election, that leadership has mostly been wandering around in no particular direction. Until the migration crisis hit in 2015. Then she offered leadership. Other countries, however, wanted Merkelism.


Roland FreudensteinPolicy director of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

In the refugee crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has, for better or worse, maneuvered Germany into an extreme position from which leadership is becoming increasingly difficult. In the two other big recent splits in the EU, Germany’s position made it easier to lead: On Russia, many capitals wanted much tougher policies than Berlin. Even on Greece, Germany had the solid backing of a couple of Northern and Eastern countries that would not have minded harsher policies. But on the refugees, even Sweden has been going the other way now, reintroducing border checks for travelers coming from Denmark.

#Merkel has maneuvered #Germany into an extreme position.
Tweet This

The sexual assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were a tipping point of pan-European proportions. If Polish volleyball fans show a banner reading “Protect your women, not our democracy!” it’s obvious what an issue-transcending game changer the assaults have become. There was a degree of self-censorship among German police and public media in the days after the event that only weakens Germany’s efforts to defend media pluralism in Poland and Hungary. More importantly, an increasing number of centrist Germans have the nagging feeling that this violence was just the beginning and that, contrary to Merkel’s mantra of “We will manage,” Germany can’t manage. Most importantly, any EU quota scheme for resettling for refugees is politically dead now.

The chancellor is still irreplaceable as a leader, in Germany as well as in the EU. But if refugee numbers keep up, this may force her to further shift her stance, putting even more of an emphasis on reducing the migration flow—and this time round, that will mean using national instruments. Somewhat paradoxically, that would be good for bringing Germany back into the European mainstream, but a blow for the Schengen system of open borders and therefore for the EU.


Ulrike GuérotFounder and director of the European Democracy Lab at the European School of Governance in Berlin

I think the real question should be whether Merkel ever had Europe—and what the Europe that she had was really like.

Merkel wasn’t known for having any vision of Europe. On the contrary, in the beginning, she was often and loudly blamed for having none. What she had was an increasingly admired pragmatism for running Europe, especially during the so-called euro crisis (which was never really about the euro, but about banking).

The German sociologist Ulrich Beck, who died in January 2015, called the German chancellor “Merkiavelli” in his book German Europe, which appeared in 2012. Let’s remember for a second that in a November 2010 speech Merkel gave at the College of Europe in Bruges, she made a paradigm shift from supporting the EU’s community method of institution-led decisionmaking to backing the intergovernmental method that emphasizes the role of member states.

#Merkel cannot win the rest of Europe round on the #refugeecrisis.
Tweet This

The question is therefore whether Europe had already been lost at the start of this decade—or at least vigorously shifted to a German Europe. If so, then what Merkel is probably losing these days is this German Europe, in the sense of Germany losing its capacity to run Europe. In essence: Merkel cannot win the rest of Europe round to her position on refugees. Hence, this issue is only the trigger for the biggest moment of European disintegration seen so far.

Short of details and differentiation, for which this blog post doesn’t offer enough space, what this all tells us is that a German Europe simply doesn’t work. It never did.


Stefan LehneVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

If Merkel loses Europe, Europe might be lost indeed.

If #Merkel loses #Europe, Europe might be lost indeed.
Tweet This

When it came to bailing out Greece or confronting Russia over its annexation of Crimea, Germany—as the economically most powerful EU member state—had a natural leading role in shaping the union’s response. But when it came to the refugee crisis, Germany—with more than 1 million asylum seekers in 2015 alone—was suddenly no longer powerful but weak. Berlin demanded, rather than offered, solidarity.

In this new constellation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s authority declined rapidly. As Poland turned populist and France was preoccupied by terrorism and the challenge of the far-right National Front, Berlin lost some key partners. With only a few allies, Merkel is now facing a growing coalition of the unwilling, who resort to border controls and fences to safeguard their national interests or pretend that the entire crisis does not concern them at all.

The idea that the migration challenge, which is likely to preoccupy Europe for the coming decades, could be overcome by national action by individual states is as foolish as it is dangerous. Unless current trends are turned around soon, not only will the Schengen zone of open borders be lost, but so too will the fundamental commitment to solving common problems through collective action. It is that commitment that has kept the EU together so far.


Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations

“Judy Asks” questions are often very philosophical, containing a dilemma rather than just a question. Sometimes they can be reversed, like an old coat: “Is Merkel losing Europe?” could magically become “Is Europe losing Merkel?” And finding an answer is becoming difficult, like a nasty riddle in a Harry Potter conundrum.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried hard to pull her country, the continent, and the hapless European Union together in a certain direction—I am not even saying the right direction (how would I know, anyway?), but at least a direction. A good sailor knows that in a storm, you should never let your boat drift; it is much better to try to tack against the wind toward a course, even if it takes you farther away from shore.

#Merkel's Teutonic resilience is cracking. Is she doomed? Not yet.
Tweet This

Faced with Grexit, Brexit, Crimea, Ukraine, Putin, terrorism, the NSA, Snowden, the refugee crisis, and Volkswagen, in a Wagnerian Ride of the Valkyries of troubles, Merkel desperately tried to do the right thing while keeping mounting domestic opposition at bay. None of her partners—Hollande, Juncker, Cameron, or Renzi—gave her steady support, each of them betting instead on his own agenda.

Now, even Merkel’s Teutonic resilience is cracking. Is she doomed? Not yet: Germany knows there is no plausible alternative, at least for the time being, and carries on. But the empress is not wearing any clothes, and any raucous toddler can yell, causing a real showdown. If and when Angela Merkel comes tumbling down, Europe will be even more adrift and difficult to steer. The surviving leaders will soon miss her, crying crocodile tears.


Ulrich SpeckSenior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy

In the #refugeecrisis, #Germany is isolated in the EU.
Tweet This

In the refugee crisis, Germany is isolated in the EU—unlike in the Greek debt crisis and the conflict with Russia over Ukraine. In those two crises, Berlin developed a leadership position in Europe by carefully building alliances and positioning itself in the middle ground. In the refugee crisis, Germany failed to do either. Chancellor Angela Merkel took a position in reaction to an emergency situation. She did so without testing the readiness of her EU partners to go along with her. The solidarity that Berlin expected didn’t materialize.

That doesn’t mean that Germany won’t be in the lead on other issues. With regard to the ongoing negotiations with London over a redefinition of Britain’s membership in the EU, Berlin is again the key country. This is not just due to Germany’s size, its geographic position, and the success of its economy. German leadership is built first and foremost on the country’s determination to seek European solutions to national challenges and to keep the union together.

A setback on the refugee crisis doesn’t change those underlying factors or the need for Merkel to fill the void at the helm of the EU. Expect more German leadership to come.


Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy

Europe may be losing Merkel, which is more important than the reverse. Europe needs Germany and especially its leader. Angela Merkel has been the North Star of Europe over the past few years. She has kept Greece in the eurozone despite the preferences of her finance minister and much of her party. And she has been the indispensable leader on Russia, maintaining Western solidarity on the sanctions regime imposed after Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea, despite pressure from German industry and her coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party.

Europe has failed #Merkel's test on dealing with the #refugees.
Tweet This

But now, Europe has failed Merkel’s test on dealing with the refugees, the one issue that threatens her chancellorship. She may have gone too far out in front of her European partners, but she looked to Europe for solidarity and has not found it. She is being pulled by domestic politics toward a more national orientation and needs Europe to respond to her concerns. She is also facing challenges to her conceptions of a liberal order in Central Europe, especially in Hungary and now in Poland.

This is a dangerous time for both Europe and Germany. If Germany is isolated or isolates itself from substantial parts of the EU, then the EU is in trouble—and the German problem returns.


Bernd UlrichDeputy editor of Die Zeit

The real question is: Is Europe losing itself? I don’t think so. The EU is in the midst of the most fundamental change in its history: the treaty-enshrined concept of “ever closer union” has failed; nearby states from Russia via Turkey to Morocco have assumed a threatening position; and the United States is doing little to deal with the chaos it caused in the Middle East, leaving the EU high and dry concerning the refugee crisis. A fair amount to deal with all at once.

Faced with these problems, some states, such as Hungary and Poland, have taken refuge in a political regression. In the most important debate of our time—authoritarianism versus liberalism—this regression is a move in the wrong direction. The same phenomenon of European Putinism can be found not only in France, in the shape of the far-right Front National, but in other countries too. The threat of authoritarianism is coming from within as well as from outside—in the form of Russia and Turkey.

#Merkel wants to remain prudent while continuing to be avant-garde.
Tweet This

In all of this, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken on a precarious dual role. She wants to remain prudent while continuing to be avant-garde in her approach. She’s done this first by developing a non-U.S. European security policy during the Ukraine conflict, virtually as she went along, and second by countering Europe’s dangerous policy of debt, trying to form a progressive refugee policy and lead Europe into a regenerative future.

Added together, these factors could tear the EU apart, but they could also make Europe the strongest and most stable continent in the world, as well as the best to live in. Let’s wait and see.