German coalition talks fail: EU cannot afford to lose Merkel

At a moment when the liberal values that have done so much to advance Western societies over the last 75 years are threatened on so many fronts the difficulties facing chancellor Angela Merkel have implications far beyond German or European borders.

Ms Merkel faces the prospect of forming a minority government — or fresh elections — after coalition talks failed at the weekend.

Germany, like so many democracies, must deal with political fragmentation.

It is an irony of our time and one that can hardly have gone unnoticed by those who hold the West’s values in disdain, that this evolution which, on first reading, seems to celebrate the spirit of democracy actually limits democracies’ capacity to take bold decisions.

The same forces are at work in the Dáil and reflect voter dissatisfaction — and anger — with the unwavering conservatism of our parliament’s dominant, entrenched parties.

As ever, embracing diversity without diminishing democracies’ capacity to deliver social advances is the pressing question.

In Spain, a different kind of fragmentation threatens national unity and, in turn, European Union solidarity.

As modern democracies work to encourage and support diversity others try to turn the tide. One example was seen in Ankara where, in recent days, officials have banned a festival of German-language gay films, saying it could incite hatred or terror attacks.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey but activists say homophobia is widespread. This hardening reflects President Erdogan’s determination to replace secular tolerance with Islamic ideology. Turkey may not be a caliphate — yet — but it is hardly a Western democracy either.

That retreat is playing out in Britain too where Brexit jihadists — what else are they? — press on with their incoherent, destructive campaign even though British voters were lied to about the reality of life outside the EU until after the June 2016 vote.

It is increasingly difficult to see how this nationalist crusade can lead to a better life for anyone whose world is susceptible to the Brexiteers’ fantasies — as, sadly, everyone living on this island is — especially those living along what might be a renewed border dividing this island.

These are just some examples (no need to mention Trump or Putin) of how the clock is being turned back all across the West and it is hard not to think that process might accelerate without the calming, powerful presence of the figurehead of European unity and progress, Angela Merkel.

Even if you disagree with her economic policies, and some are indeed difficult to stomach, her role in championing humane values, especially at the height of the immigration crisis, cannot be denied.

That she adopted these positions knowing that they would cost her at the ballot box, as has transpired, seems to enhance rather than diminishe her status.

In a world where a return to older, more insular and often less caring values and relationships seems to define the zeitgeist we cannot afford to lose a figure of the force and charisma of Merkel especially as she seems one of the very few political leaders who can effectively defend the values of tolerance and human rights our world is built on.


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