Eminently predictably, Angela Merkel just got the first taste of her well-deserved comeuppance at the polls over the weekend. There will be more to come:
The ripple effects of the German voter rebellion against Merkel’s open-door immigration policy will rapidly be felt across the continent. It will not matter much that the Chancellor has tried to modify it after the fact, reaching out to Turkey and seeking ways to slow down the migration inflow, with NATO and the EU looking for joint solutions to strengthen the borders. If anything, the public rejection of Merkel’s policy has reinforced the sense that her leadership has failed to grasp fully the complexity of the nearly thirty-year-old European Union—especially the enduring strength of the national identity politics of its newer members and the ultimate insularity of state interests in the United Kingdom, France, and Spain. Today, regardless of how Germany ultimately adjusts its immigration policy, the amount of damage done to the EU’s cohesion by Merkel’s initial open door policy will endure. It has already reinforced an increasingly nationalized approach to managing immigration by individual member states, while feeding the European public opinion’s growing anti-Brussels sentiment.
The anti-Merkel vote in Germany also casts in a different light the early decision by Viktor Orban of Hungary to build a fence across his country’s border, and, more recently, the refusal by France to take in more migrants, the ongoing resistance in Poland to the mandatory resettlement quota system advocated by the EU Commission, and the Macedonian government’s decision to close the country’s border completely. Likewise, the creeping de facto reintroduction of national border controls across the Schengen Zone is but the latest reaffirmation of what was once derided in Berlin, Vienna, and Brussels as the “Orbanization of Europe.” This was, in hindsight, at least on the border question, a prudent if clumsily executed effort to manage the flow so as to stay attuned to the public mood in the European Union and to preserve individual states’ absorption capacity. Whatever one thinks of Orban’s questionable economic and foreign policy priorities, he correctly anticipated the public’s resistance to the current wave of MENA migrants.
Orban — denounced, of course, as a “Nazi” for wanting to protect his country and the identity of the Hungarian people –was right and Merkel is wrong. It really is that simple. There is no “European” identity, but there are (still) such things as real Germans, Swedes, Hungarians and Italians. Europe only now seems to be remembering that. Let’s hope it’s not too late.