BBC’s Remarkably Familiar Story on Angela Merkel

Yesterday, BBC Europe editor Katya Adler posted an insightful profile on Angela Merkel’s “mixed legacy” following her 16 years as German Chancellor. It was a compelling analysis: poring over the details of her domestic and European policymaking, ultimately concluding that there’s a “tale of two Merkels“. By sheer coincidence, Adler’s analysis bears a truly remarkable similarity to another profile on the German Chancellor that appeared in Foreign Policy magazine back in July.

Guido’s combed through both articles, and it’s surprising just how much everyone seems to agree. The ideas, themes, analyses and conclusions all align quite neatly. On Merkel’s legacy, Matthijs and Kelemen say she had a tendency to “procrastinate and dither”; Adler says she “waited till the last moment to act”. On the European economies, Matthijs and Kelemen point out that “Northern economies thrived [and] Southern economies entered deep recessions”; Adler notices the same thing. On Hungary’s Orban, Matthijs and Kelemen say Merkel “shielded him against EU censure”; Adler also notes “she repeatedly stopped short of taking decisive action”. The list goes on. At no point does Adler reference the Foreign Policy piece, despite repeatedly tackling the same points over and over again. Let he who hasn’t panicked close to a looming deadline cast the first stone

Co-conspirators can draw their own conclusions from the extracts below:

On Merkel’s legacy:

Foreign Policy:

“There is some truth to [the] flattering narrative about Merkel, but it tells only one part of the story. There has also been a darker side to Merkel’s leadership in Europe—both to the specific decision-making tactics she has relied on and to the general principles that have guided her policies. In approaching Europe’s political crises, Merkel’s main political stratagem has been to procrastinate and dither.”

BBC:

“But this is a tale of two Merkels…Her European legacy, like her domestic one, is mixed. The criticism levelled at her back home – that during her 16 long years at Germany’s helm, she was a Krisenmanagerin, or crisis manager, typically waiting till the last moment to act; a pragmatist but no visionary – can also be applied to her record on the European stage.

On the migrant crisis:

Foreign Policy:

“During the refugee crisis in the summer of 2015, she showed her humanity—at considerable political cost—by letting more than 1 million mostly Syrian refugees into Germany. Merkel also helped the EU member states maintain a united front during the Brexit negotiations.”

BBC:

“When in late summer 2015 Angela Merkel opened Germany’s borders to more than a million refugees and asylum seekers, she made front pages the world over – lauded by some, derided by others.”

On the EU’s deal with Turkey:

Foreign Policy:

“Even at the moment of her boldest moral leadership, the 2015-16 migration crisis, she ultimately failed to convince her fellow EU leaders to craft a humane common policy, resorting instead to an unsavory “money for refugees” deal with Turkey.”

BBC:

“The chancellor later came under fire from Amnesty International and refugee groups for her key role in then brokering a controversial deal on behalf of the EU with Turkey’s autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

On international rivals:

Foreign Policy:

“Merkel not only put profit above principle when it came to pet autocrats inside the EU, but she also did so on a larger scale in her approach to Europe’s geostrategic rivals—the blatantly authoritarian regimes of Russia and China…”

BBC:

“Ms Palacio also attacked EU foreign policy, laying no small share of the blame for lack of direction and “dubious decisions” at Angela Merkel’s door: from the EU’s dealings with Turkey to its Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China.”

On Putin and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline: 

Foreign Policy:

“This is nowhere more obvious than in Merkel’s determination to pursue the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline despite strong opposition from the EU and the United States. Defenders of Merkel’s approach to the Putin regime would point to the leadership role she played after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in putting together a sanctions package that thus far has held up remarkably well. However, Merkel has contradicted and undermined any impact of these sanctions on Putin and his associates by continuing to support Nord Stream 2, a project that hands his regime a far greater prize.”

BBC:

“Angela Merkel is often attacked for seeming to allow Germany’s trade interests to dictate her country’s foreign policy, with a resulting influence on the EU. Take relations with Russia. By building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany to secure cheaper energy, she stands accused of weakening both EU political unity and strategic coherence vis-à-vis Moscow, as well as giving Vladimir Putin more leverage over an EU he has a strong interest in weakening.“

On the North-South EU divide:

Foreign Policy:

“As Northern economies thrived, their exports boosted by a weak euro and their fiscal accounts much relaxed by negative bond yields, Southern economies entered deep recessions that saw a whole young generation mired in record high unemployment… This lack of solidarity and emphasis on austerity would come to haunt the EU in the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic, in a cruel twist of fate, first struck Europe in Italy and Spain, two big EU member states that had been forced to cut back the most on public health expenditures during the previous decade.”

BBC:

“Chancellor Merkel intervened to rescue the eurozone, but she also provoked a deep north-south divide within the EU. A divide that reappeared during the migrant crisis and at the start of the Covid pandemic – with southern Europeans feeling abandoned, to face the brunt of these emergencies.”

On Orban:

Foreign Policy:

“Though Merkel would never contemplate cooperating with the far-right Alternative for Germany at home, she was happy for the past decade to ally at the EU level with Orban’s right-wing, autocratic Fidesz party. Until this March, Merkel’s CDU and Orban’s Fidesz were allied as members of the European People’s Party (EPP)—the most powerful of the pan-European “Europarties.” Orban’s minions provided votes for the EPP in the European Parliament… In return, she shielded him against EU censure.”

BBC:

“Angela Merkel was for years also viewed by many as an enabler of Hungarian democratic backsliding…Hungary’s self-styled “illiberal” Prime Minister Viktor Orban was until recently a member of Chancellor Merkel’s centre-right EPP group in Brussels, guaranteeing it more seats and influence in the European Parliament. Alienating him was problematic, and she repeatedly stopped short of taking decisive action.“

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