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The Legacy of Angela Merkel: Kicking the Can Down the Road

In the months since Angela Merkel’s departure from the German Chancellorship after sixteen years in power, the editorials praising her reign have been legion.

This is not one of them.

Busy heaping praise on abstractions, Merkel’s purported courage, strength, and moral conviction, few bother to look at the actual policies of her governments and their impact on the German people—as well as the people of Europe as a whole. As Europe’s de facto most important state, Germany under Merkel mismanaged numerous crises. She kicked more than her share of cans down the road, often while publicly denying any such problems existed. 

By the end, German voters were not amused.

They punished her Christian Union, the Christian Democratic Union–Christian Social Union coalition, in last year’s elections, rejecting her chosen successor, Armin Laschet. The diminishing returns of her party in the prior two elections had forecast as much, and in this most recent election, the party returned its lowest share of the vote since 1949.

While Germany’s economy stagnated and the EU descended into disorder, Merkel ignored the creation of mass social movements in Germany and studies and polls showing Germans and their fellow Europeans weren’t sure of their present course and wanted to go in the other direction. This was particularly so when it came to mass immigration, which had been occurring for decades in relatively smaller numbers, but which dramatically increased in the early 2000s and 2010s.

The issues have not been unrelated.

For a country long used to running massive trade and fiscal surpluses, the drain of mass immigration on German coffers has been enormous. At least Berlin could cope. At a time when economic trouble within the eurozone already threatened the entire project of European integration, it was those countries most imperiled, Italy, Spain, and Greece, that were made to bear the additional economic, social, and political costs of an irresponsible immigration policy decided in Brussels—this while the German-dominated European Central Bank forced crippling austerity and unemployment were forced on the citizens of those countries in question.

Merkel’s widely publicized open door made the problem predictably worse, as did her solemn reiterations of the same arguments European elites had been using for decades to bring in cheap foreign labor, words that for a long time had rung false across the continent.

Mass low-skill immigration has not been, as was promised, a short- and long-term boon for the relatively older populations of Europe. How could it be? Most have brought little with them in terms of financial or human capital, and whether once properly integrated into the various states of Europe they will become net contributors remains to be seen. In the meantime, at its height, the crisis cost the German government an admitted €10,000 per child, this at a time when tens of thousands were entering Europe every few weeks. In 2019 alone, the government spent €23 billion.

The warmed-over and demonstrably false, or at least questionably optimistic, arguments and assertions didn’t end there, of course. Even more ominously, beneath the steady stream of platitudes about tolerance and diversity, any European who dared voice their discomfort at the rapid ethno-religious transformation of their countries was promptly denounced as racist or fascist.

When, in fact, the glaring truth was unmistakable.

In what should have been identified as a glaring contradiction, the same parties and groups advocating the rights of women, the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) community, and religious minorities simultaneously advocated bringing in untold millions of mostly young, male Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan Muslims who did not feel similarly—indeed, thought such things ridiculous, mistaken, blasphemous, even criminal.

The tolerance the Left so prized, it seemed, was not to be so warmly reciprocated. In a widely publicized BBC poll, a quarter of British Muslims reported feeling sympathy for the gunman who had killed twelve people in the office of a French satirical magazine for unflatteringly depicting the prophet. This was hardly news to local native Britons, who had watched in horror as even thirty years ago riotous British Muslims had clamored for Salman Rushdie’s head.

In what retrospectively was clearly a canary-in-the-coal-mine moment, Rushdie had been roundly blamed by the political, media, and even religious establishment.

This was just another example of the Left’s postwar inanity: in the only societies in recorded history to produce the emancipation of women, abolition of slavery, security of property rights, and the separation of church and state, the most prominent voices in the media, society, academia, and politics castigated it, denigrated it, even denied it. Instead they heaped praise on the supposed virtues of what were clearly—in the eyes of those who value liberal freedoms and the equality of women and sexual and religious minorities—cultures with more repressive social norms and illiberal ideological inclinations than seen in much of Europe in at least a century; and as a passionately held fundamentalist worldview, the faith of many new arrivals was uncomfortably similar to the one it took many centuries for the now staunchly secular Europe to finally escape.

Whatever the propaganda, prior to importing masses of Turkish labor after World War II, Islam was not part of Germany’s history. Merkel has done her part to ensure it will be part of its future, with all the uncertainties that entails. Though the flood of migrants that streamed into Europe throughout the 2010s has been slowed by covid, the building of walls, and the tightening of return policies, conservative estimates put the future Muslim population of Europe by 2050 at over 10 percent. With the immigrants having settled unevenly, favoring those states with the most generous welfare benefits, they will constitute over 20 percent in places such as sparsely populated Sweden.

These are radical experiments in social engineering. Though in 2010 Merkel had freely and openly admitted that mass immigration and assimilation had been a failure, she ultimately placed her faith in the belief that a European was someone who just happened to be in Europe—a German someone who just happened to be in Germany—rather than someone produced organically by German society.

Only time will tell.