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The Glue that Holds Europe Together

Merkel has taken up the banner championing the EU as it slowly sinks into the quicksand of the worst crisis it has faced since its founding
By The News · 27 of April 2017 09:10:30
German Chancellor and Chairwomen of the CDU, Angela Merkel, gestures after her speech as part of a general party conference of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Essen, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, No available, photo: AP/Martin Meissner

With the recent fraying of the EU’s once-unshredable fabric as a result of the United Kingdom’s untimely Brexit vote, the surge of Euroskepticism in France, Denmark, Italy, Poland and Slovakia, and the uncertain future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Europe is on the verge of coming unglued.

And the one cohesive component that is somehow holding together the rapidly dismantling continent and its 28-member political-economic federation of states seems to be a reluctant heroine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Like a modern-day Sophie Scroll (a 19th century German heldin whose incomparable work with the resistance movement led to the salvation of thousands of lives during the Second World War), Merkel, in the face of mounting right-wing populism and resistance to the Maastricht Treaty philosophy that transformed a select European commercial bloc into a regional political entity, has taken up the banner championing the EU as it slowly sinks into the quicksand of the worst crisis it has faced since its founding.

The four-term chancellor, who is up for round five in September, is the best hope of a life preserver for the moribund and rapidly inundating Union.

As Europe’s largest economy, it is Berlin — not Brussels — that is the real mucilage cementing the continent together.

Consequently, Germany has become Europe’s real capital and guarantor of stability, and Merkel is its chief gladiator, albeit a diffident one, and the de-facto head of the continent.

Perhaps if it were not for the current Eurocrisis, the 62-year-old Merkel would have declined running for a fifth term (after all, she has served 12 years, which in the world of political leadership is a lifetime).

And over those dozen years, she has already expended a fortune in political capital by taking not-always-popular stances on hot-button issues such as defending migration, protecting Islam’s place in Europe and allowing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to take a German comedian to court for allegedly tarnishing his good name. (Since first coming to power in 2005, Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party has fallen from 45 percent to 34 percent support among voters.)

To her credit, the resolute Merkel has proven that, despite her deadpan expressions and matter-of-fact rhetoric, she has an uncanny ability to coax otherwise hostile rivals back to the negotiating tables when it seems that she and they have reached unsurmountable loggerhead impasses.

Case in point: She managed to get Greece’s leftist Prime Minister Alexi Tsipras to accept additional restrictions on public spending, even though his country was already suffering under the yoke of mega-austerity measures.

But for all her tenacity, Merkel may now be facing a Sisyphean challenge trying to clench a disintegrating Europe back into a solid political entity.

And just like the mythical king of Ephyra, Merkel will need Olympiad strength and determination to keep the boulder of European unity on an upward track and prevent it from rolling backwards and crushing her political creed.

Cleary, the fate of Europe rests on her shoulders.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at therese.margolis@gmial.com.