Power Profile: Angela Merkel

Friday, November 20, 2015
Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
Karen Donfried

President, German Marshall Fund of the United States

Alan Crawford

European Government Team Leader, Bloomberg News; Coauthor, Angela Merkel: A Chancellorship Forged in Crisis

Holger Stark

Washington Bureau Chief, Der Spiegel

Daniel Hamilton

Executive Director, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Alan Crawford, European government team leader at Bloomberg News, Karen E. Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and Holger Stark, Washington bureau chief of Der Spiegel, discuss the leadership style, personality, and policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she navigates an escalating migration crisis, uncertainty in the eurozone, and growing domestic pressures.

In the Power Profile series, speakers discuss the leadership style, psychology, personality, and policies of well-known leaders from around the world.

HAMILTON: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us. My name’s Dan Hamilton. I direct the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, down the street on Dupont Circle. I’m going to moderate our discussion today.

You have everyone’s bios, so I’m not going to get into great detail here, simply to welcome Holger Stark, who’s the Washington Bureau chief for Der Spiegel, a German news magazine; Karen Donfried, who’s the president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States; and Alan Crawford, who’s the European government team leader for Bloomberg News, who’s also written a book on Angela Merkel.

So this is part of the Council’s series on power politics, and trying to get into leadership styles, personalities, people who have power, and to sort of, you know, look at that aspect of the issue. And so we’re going to start off with that type of format. We’ll have a bit of a discussion among us to start us off. I’m going to ask our colleagues here to say a few words on that theme. And we’ll have a little bit back and forth. And then we’ll turn to you for further discussion. OK?

So, you know, I think the issue here is Angela Merkel’s leadership style, which has been very successful for her, and high popularity ratings among the German public, a strong reputation within her own coalition, huge reputation internationally. And the question really is, does that leadership style work given the accumulating crises that both Germany and Europe are facing now? Some are questioning whether that particular style that she has is attuned to the current set of crises or not.

There is a poll just released by a German polling organization, Allensbach, that said that while most Germans, 56 percent, said they regarded her has a strong chancellor, when it comes to policies her support of about 50 percent has gone down to about 32 percent. So some in Germany are wondering whether this is the end of the Merkel or she’s stabilize and come back. But the question, I think, of interest to us today is whether that style of leadership, the Merkel method, if you will, will get her through these kinds of issues.

So we’re going to do Germans first, since this is a topic on Germany. So Holger is here, but he’s been covering German politics for quite a while an obviously has some insights into that. So, Holger, why don’t you start us off with that question: Does Merkel’s style suit her to these challenges, or is she finding some difficulty?

STARK: Thank you very much, Dan. And thank you very much for the Council on Foreign Relations for inviting us and putting together this great group here. It’s a perfect week for that kind of discussion. Ten years ago exactly to the week Angela Merkel has been elected, and been in the chancellery. And so we have a decade right this week to assess. And I’ve brought two power stories with me to show how differently people look on her. This is The Economist from, like, two weeks ago, “The Indispensable European.” And I brought the cover of my own magazine, which portrays her as Mother Theresa. (Laughter.) At least for Germany, probably also for Europe, one can say.

I think then we really see a watershed moment for her right now. Over the last 10 years, she was in trouble from time to time, but her overall pollings were always high. She really followed the centrist approach. And right now we see for the first time in a decade that she’s obviously, at least in Germany for the moment, governing against the majority of the Germans when it comes to the refugee crisis. You’ve asked if her style is suited for that kind of crisis. I would put it the other way around. I would say that she changed her style, and that makes her struggle right now.

For a long time, she always has been positioning herself in the middle, in the center. She was willing to sacrifice conservative principles, for example, when it came to the nuclear decision to shift to renewable energies after the Fukushima incident in 2011. But that was backed by almost 70 percent of the German population. It was unpopular in her own party, but it was backed by the overwhelming majority of the people. So she always tried to maintain a position in the center of German politics, in the center of the polls. And that was great for her. It was great for the Germans. The Germans believed she was—she was someone who really could be trusted and could lead the country. People slept well with the knowledge that Angela Merkel would take care of the things.

In September, she chose a different path. She made the decision to open the borders and to let Syrian refugees coming from Hungarian in. And since then, not only Europe, but particularly Germany, faced this refugee crisis. At the end of the year, we will have a million people coming in, mostly from Syria, but also from other parts of Africa and Europe. And that brings us to that watershed moment. And so the question is not if her general style is good for that kind of crisis, but is her convinced position of saying, like, this is not my country if we do not have open borders, if the asylum right that we’ve invented after World War II is no longer valid. And this is not my country if we—if we are not welcoming refugees. If this, driven by morality and not by rational aspects, if this approach is suiting that crisis right now.

HAMILTON: Right. Tony (sp), you’ve been covering her for a long time in various capacity. You wrote a book about her. Can you—what is the Merkel method? People talk about this. Is there a certain style that she brings to this? Holger is saying she shifts her style. So maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s a stereotype. But how would you describe how she governs. And again, back to the question, is it suited to this current phase?

CRAWFORD: Well, she’s famously a scientist by training, unlike most politicians who tend to be lawyers or trade union officials. And in Merkel’s case, she is approaching this particular crisis much the same as she tackles any other crisis, that she breaks it down into its component parts. And she’s, for example, under admittedly some pressure at home. And looking at the domestic aspects of this, they enacted legislation just recently to try to tighten up the process, to make it less generous for refugees to arrive in terms of benefits, and at the same time to facilitate integration of the people who are accepted.

But also, and this is the interesting fact, I find, that the chancellor and the chancellery in general, are very much reaching out and trying to broaden Germany’s foreign policy dimension. And we see that with Merkel. She, very controversially, went to Turkey just before the elections for meetings with the prime minister and the president. And she knew that would be controversial and would be criticized. Equally, she, very unusually for Germany, came out and said that we believe that dialogue is necessary with the Syrian President Assad to have some kind of resolution. She, of course, has been—she met with Putin and Obama just in the G-20 Summit in Turkey. I just came back from there. And Merkel was very much—she was very much at ease in terms of the international, global policymaking.

And so I would argue that there are various elements—both the ability to, if you like, reverse her position and to sell it to the German public. I’m not saying that she will completely reverse her position, but she can modify it, even substantially. But this international dimension I think is something that is worth watching, because it could be crucial in not just the weeks, but the years ahead for Germany and Europe.

HAMILTON: Well, Karen, you’ve had experience not only working with an organization that focuses on Europe so much, but also you were in the White House and had to see how Chancellor Merkel interacted with the president and with other world leaders. What do you think—what can you say about her leadership style that you observe and whether it’s suited to the current spate of challenges Germany’s facing?

DONFRIED: So when I think about Chancellor Merkel’s leadership style, I would describe it as principled pragmatism. I think she does have principles, and always has had principles under which she operates. But she also is a pragmatic politician. And when she realizes that she needs to make a course correction, she will do that. And I think when you look at these current spate of crises on which she’s shown leadership—we take the big three, the euro crisis, Ukraine crisis, and now the refugee crisis—she has shown leadership in all three, in some more controversial than others. And what’s the difference among those three?

In my mind, when you think about the eurozone crises, where she had many course corrections, for most Germans that was out there. It was about Greece and about the Greeks. If you think about the crisis with Russia over Ukraine, again, it was about Ukraine, which was out there. The refugee crisis is about Syrians coming to your town next week and taking over your sport hall so your kids can no longer go there after school. So the way that’s affecting Germans in a very direct manner, and raising issues of culture identity makes it quite different from these other crises. And so we now have, to use a Reaganesque term, seen a scratch in her Teflon.

I don’t think this is going to be a fundamental challenge to her leadership. Has Holger reminded us, this Sunday she’ll celebrate 10 years in office. This is a seasoned politician who’s dealt with very serious challenges in those 10 years. And let’s be honest, what is the alterative to Angela Merkel in her party? We can talk about that. But she is very much the undisputed leader in the CDU. Much as we see this backlash in her own party and in its sister party, he CSU, against her. So I would be very cautious about writing Angela Merkel off. This is a challenge. She is committed to her policy. She said: This is my vision. I’m going to fight for it. And when you’re a leader, there are important things to fight for. So that would be my suggestion, is don’t write her off.

HAMILTON: I think you pick apart these different crises, and you do see that the refugee issue, as Karen said, really reaches deep into German society, because they’re coming to your hometown. It’s not like a crisis, you know, very far away. And you know, Germans I’ve talked to, they—while they greet this a lot, they recognize the refugees are coming because they’re fleeing chaos and horrible things, what disturbs many of them that I’ve talked to is that they just don’t see an end to it. They don’t see a program. They don’t see, you know, here’s what we’ll do. This is what we’ll do. It’s basically, we’ll just take everyone. And I think for people in local communities and others who are having to deal with the reality of, you know, their schools and their apartments, and everything, this uncertainty about how this will play out seems to be really what’s driving a lot of this nervousness.

Holger, I just wondered, do you think she’s managing this well in terms of that kind of, you know, unease in German society? Or maybe you don’t agree that that’s the unease.

STARK: Well, let me say first, I spoke to her twice in late September and early October and—for background conversations. And she emphasized how important to her this kind of open society is. And I found that really impressive. It would be easy for her to take another stand and to shift it. But she’s really convinced, and I agree with Karen, that there are principles behind this. So it’s not just, like, looking where the polls go. In this—when it comes down to a small number of really important points, she just stands to it. She’s adjusting a little bit right now because she sees that her party is not following her, but she really tries to convince the Germans.

And that’s a challenge for her because she is not a great speaker. Her strength doesn’t come like Obama’s in a visionary speech at the Siegessaule in ’07, ’08 in Berlin. It doesn’t come out of words or public appearances. She’s not great on TV. She’s great by content and by being convinced. And she really needs to convince the German people right now to deal with that crisis. Karen said it totally right, it’s the parents who say that her 17-year old son can’t finish high school in sports because the gym is taken by Syrian refugees. Nothing against Syrian refugees, but my son’s closer than Syrian is. And she really needs to reach out to those—to the German population right now.

Let me at add one point to the pragmatism, which I think is the second really important point. She learned that the in the GDR, in a totalitarian system, that you just need to be pragmatic, that you need to look on the long run, not try to accomplish something on the short run. But you need to wait and you need to see where the whole system is going and take a long-standing approach. And that helps her very much when it comes to a crisis like the Ukraine crisis. Vladimir Putin, when they first met, brought a dog with him because he knew that Angela Merkel is extremely afraid of dogs. So he brought a dog into that room to test her, to see how she would react. And of course, she was frightened, but she could handle it. She never—she never hesitated to keep on talking with Putin or to play the other way around.

And in the Ukrainian crisis, Merkel is probably the most important channel towards Russia. And she’s playing the bridge between the U.S. and Russia because she developed this ability to look for the long run, to accept that things are sometimes terrible but nevertheless you have to deal with it. And she needs to sacrifice her own personality and to keep on going. And I think that’s the great advantage when it comes to those fundamental crises, like Karen mentioned, the EU crisis, Ukraine, and also we have the refugee crisis.

HAMILTON: You know, the German system, there is the chancellor and then there’s the president. The president’s more symbolic head of state. But it’s interesting right now that there is also an East German president in Germany. So both the chancellor and the president are from eastern Germany. Both come sort of out of the church backgrounds in different ways. Do you think—and the president, Mr. Gauck, was just here also, and I think has also conveyed a certain moral authority, he certainly speaks to the German people in a way that I think has resonated a lot.

What’s their role with each other? How do they—how do they interact? Do you think they help each other define their roles? Is there any tension between them? He doesn’t have the power, but he also is a man of words, actually, in some ways.

STARK: Well, one must know that Gauck wanted to become Bundespräsident and Merkel picked Christian Wulff from Hannover in the first place, so in the first place she didn’t allow him to become president. But again, pragmatism. After Wulff struggled about the corruption affair and also the famous sentence that the Islam is part of Germany. So he—a series of incidents brought him out of office. She pragmatically shifted and saw that Gauck maybe would be the right person because he, in opposition to her, is a great speaker. He finds the right words for those situations. And so I think she’s strong enough to accept a strong personality beside her. It’s interesting that Gauck in a way is missing those opportunities right now, because we would need someone who is really addressing those issues to the German population. He’s not doing that very well right now. So it’s clear she’s in the driver’s seat, and there is no discussion about that.

HAMILTON: You know, the other question I think about her leadership right now in Europe is not only within Germany that there are no challengers, but there don’t seem to be other leaders in Europe. Part of it is because other countries are struggling. The British are having their own debates. The French, Mr. Hollande now is really focused, but France has been struggling as well. Italy having troubles. Tony (sp), you’ve been watching Angela Merkel. Now you’re looking at the European template. Is this part of the reason why she has such influence, is that there’s simply—everyone else is sort of dealing with their own problems, or is there something else to it?

CRAWFORD: Absolutely. She seems to be the only leader in Europe who is looking at the Europe-wide solution to these particular crises that are piling one upon the other. And also, to go back to a point that Holger made that’s a good one about the president, she picked the wrong man, essentially. And he had to resign as president. And then she reversed her position and backed Gauck and took no hit in the polls. And for that, it would seemingly be a disastrous decision, but didn’t affect her. And we should remember that the chancellor has gone against public opinion in Germany before.

And it was hugely unpopular, her decisions at the beginning of the euro crisis when it spread from Greece, and Germany and others agreed that they would implement this—I think it was about a trillion dollar financial backstop to try to stop the spread of this debt crisis to Europe. That, of course, came with a substantial amount of German guarantees—financial guarantees, which were hugely unpopular. And her popularity went lower than it is now. Then again, during the nuclear debate she was very unpopular.

But on this issue, what I find fascinating is that from her eastern heritage, the chancellor has been clear that she—the images of these refugees coming in, piling up against the Hungarian border, reminded her of 1989, and when people were fleeing through to the West. Obviously a different scenario, but similar images. And she’s been very clear from conviction that she doesn’t want to build walls in Europe again. And that’s her red line, if you like. So don’t think she will reverse that position in any way, credibly.

HAMILTON: Yeah. Karen, let me ask if—anything you’d like to say—but since—given the U.S. perspective. So the president has now been dealing with the chancellor very intensely for many years now, and seems to have sort of a trust to, some would say, delegate issues to her, that the U.S. doesn’t always have to be running the show on a lot of things. You see in the Ukraine crisis basically, you know, she seems to be leading much of those issues in resolving it. On the euro crisis, there were differences between the U.S. and German governments on the appropriate way to deal with economic austerity or growth, but it didn’t become, you know, a contentious thing that got out of hand. So can you tell us a little bit about the two styles and how they interact? And is that—should we rely on a personality to also advance U.S. interests?

DONFRIED: Personalities matter, because when you’re talking about the relationships between leaders it does get to personality and the trust that you build up in that relationship. And when I had the privilege of seeing that relationship between President Obama and Chancellor Merkel up close they had had four years of working together already under their respective belts. And it was a very deep relationship at that time. And I think a great example of how effectively and closely they’ve worked together is Ukraine. I mean, those of us who sit in Washington are familiar with the newspaper articles that say: Barack Obama has outsourced his Ukraine policy to Chancellor Merkel. In fact, I think it’s been the result of a quite effective partnership where both felt how critical it was to have transatlantic solidarity in standing up to this very serious challenge from Russia on the European continent. And that informed the policy of complementary sanctions that we’ve seen over the past year and a half.

On the broader question of leadership, it in some ways this connects the two as well. I was thinking of—as Holger and Alan were speaking, you know, what do we think of when we think of leadership? I mean, there’s one aspect of leadership which means it can often be quite lonely to lead. And the point that Angela Merkel in many ways is an outsider. We talked about her being from the east. Clearly she’s a woman—the first time Germany’s been led by a woman. She is a Protestant in an overwhelmingly Catholic party. She is a hard scientist. There are all of these things that make her different. In many ways, that’s true of Barack Obama too. That may be one thing that unites them. But it also means, I believe, that when she’s under pressure like this, and you see so many headlines about Merkel alone, the lonely leader, she is in many ways well-equipped to deal with that if you look at her life story.

Then what’s the second point about leadership? You have to take the costs of being a leader. And when we think about the eurozone crisis, Germany has paid the largest bill for that. When we think about Ukraine and German business ties to Russia and sanctions, Germany’s paid a price for that policy. And when we look at the refugee crisis, Germany has stood up and said: We are taking—not the largest number per capita; we have to give Sweden its due for that—but Germany is taking a large burden on managing that crisis. And that’s part of leadership. You’ll be criticized, but she’s also setting an example.

Now, a third part of leadership, she’s gotten so much flak for standing up and saying: Wir schaffen das. We will manage this. What leader stands up and says—

HAMILTON: Yes we can, in other words.

DONFRIED: What leader stands up and says: We cannot manage this? I mean, we will feel better if she’d stood up and said, we can’t manage this? That’s leadership. Of course Germany can manage this—whether it’s 850,000 refugees this year or a million—1 percent or roughly more of Germany’s population. Germany can manage this. And, yes, the influx, the speed of that influx is overwhelming at the moment. And here we get to the pragmatism. So what’s the course correction? How do you try to slow down that influx to give Germany time to actually put in place measures that convince the German population and the broader European public that, in fact, Germany and the EU can manage it? So that’s why we see her flying to Turkey and trying to manage that deal, and think about how you reinforce the EU’s external borders. But a leader should stand up and say: We’re facing a challenge, but we can manage it, especially when she’s the indispensable leader in a much larger European context.

HAMILTON: Indispensable—the question is whether that’s sufficient to lead Europe right now, given so many other challenges. So I wonder, can she do it on her own? Is that too much to ask of Germany? You see during the euro crisis she was—you know, everyone would go to Berlin and ask her for help, but she’s also being, you know, depicted with a little mustache and, you know, sort of the very anti-German, anti-Merkel cartoon images as well. And I think many in Europe are sort of torn, you know, the fact that they’re dealing now with a Germany that has great weight and led by a chancellor who seems to have a lot of influence.

Tony (sp), I just wondered, what do you think about this kind of new dynamic with Germany? Can Germany really step up like that? Do people really want Germany to play this role? Or are they a little nervous?

CRAWFORD: Well, yes, of course, people are nervous. It’s hugely controversial. And I think that, on Karen’s point in terms of leadership, then an interesting point to note is that Merkel has the support of German industry, both on Russian sanctions, which you wouldn’t have imagined that the industry of the country would come round and support the view, and on the refugee crisis. And that is—that’s important.

And as for German’s growing global role, that, again, is something that I suspect the German public at large is—will find harder to digest. In the euro crisis, it was really—it was by necessity and by default that Germany is the largest economy, therefore it paid the largest bill, and with that came the largest amount of power. And in terms of foreign policy, no, she cannot do it alone. That’s why she’s been so determined to try and get the Turkish government on board, unpalatable as that may be. And she obviously cannot resolve the war in Syria, which is the root cause of all of this. And she needs the support of Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin.

And so that’s what I was trying to get at earlier, that that is—it’s by no means a given that that will succeed. But I do feel that Germany to some extent is reasserting itself, in a peaceful way, and taking its rightful place, if you like, as the biggest country in Europe, and its global role. We’re seeing signs of that, at least.

HAMILTON: Well, let me—I’m going to come to you, Holger—but let me push on that a little bit. Global role—you know, critics would say, really? What’s Germany’s global role? Everything we’ve been talking about is Germany’s regionally role, and limited to Europe which is pretty overwhelmed at the moment. Many would say, what’s Germany doing to solve the Syrian issue at its root, not the consequences of it? You’re never going to stop the flow unless you deal with the issue at hand. You know, and so what are we really talking about? I wonder, some of these reflexes we’re talking about, are these reflexes of the old German foreign policy that continues? How much of it is her influence?

Checkbook diplomacy, a familiar German way of getting out of crises. Never get out in front, you know, always do it with others. You know, don’t get way out; don’t do it alone. How much of that is just sort of the basic German foreign policy establishment reflexes from decades now of having to manage themselves? And how much is she changing that, if at all? And what is—what do you mean, global policy? You know, aren’t we giving the Germans a pass here a little bit, actually? Being a little too nice? Shouldn’t we demand a bit more of this weighty country?

STARK: Well, from a German perspective, I would say we did a lot—or, Germany did a lot in the last years. A journalist should always maintain critical distance to the subject that he or she is describing, right? (Laughter.) I mean, I think you can’t overstate what Merkel changed also in the foreign policy in the last 10 years. I mean, the term leadership from behind described German foreign policy over decades. Germany was always reluctant. Remember Helmut Kohl, the first Gulf War in ’91. He did exactly what you say; it’s checkbook diplomacy. He wrote a big paycheck and that was it. And in the Syrian crisis, Germany for the first time delivered weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga a year and a half ago. That was a huge step for Germany, which never would have imagined to intervene militarily in such a conflict.

So I think also when you look at the Iranian nuclear program and Germany’s role in the P5+5 negotiations, Germany slowly shifted away from that leadership from behind approach under Merkel’s tenure in the last decade, of course with European crisis—the euro crisis in the center, but also in other foreign policy fields, as I described. And I think we’re somewhat in the middle in the process. There are many people in Germany who say that it’s too fast. We, on the other side, have Bundespräsident Gauck, who mentioned in his speech at the Munich Security Conference a year and a half ago that Germany must do more, the same that the Defense Minister von der Leyen.

So I think we’re in the middle of a transition period under Angela Merkel’s leadership, and which probably wouldn’t be possible if she would speak up loud, as Gerhard Schroder did, as her predecessor. She’s doing it slowly, with a modest tone. She’s not claiming Germany’s new role in the world. But she’s basically directing in that direction.

HAMILTON: Karen, are we giving the Germans a pass? Shouldn’t we expect more from them?

DONFRIED: There’s always that question, is the glass half-full or glass half-empty? And I’m neither a journalist nor a German, but I would see the glass as half full in the case of Merkel. And just to pick up on Holger’s last point, in many ways Merkel has the right personality to do it, because there’s this unassuming character that she brings to this. And I think it’s actually been very helpful to her in a German domestic context, as well as more broadly. And clearly, the role we see Germany grasping most robustly is the regional European role, but I think we would be remiss not to see Germany’s interests beyond Europe.

And just to take one example that we haven’t talked about is Germany’s relationship with China. As Germany looks for growth, it is looking to China. And when you look at how that relationship has changed over the past 10 years, it’s quite striking. And I’m actually trying to get someone at GMF to do a study to look at whether Europe has pivoted more to China than the U.S. has, in fact.

And when you look at, for example, European Union exports to China, Germany leads those overwhelmingly, with roughly 44 percent of those exports. And you drop, then, to the U.K. and France at 8 and 10 percent. So China, for example, is very important for Germany’s economic health and growth today, and that’s just one example. So I do think it is right to reflect on how Germany’s role beyond Europe is developing as well.

HAMILTON: OK. So we’re going to open it up now. So we have a microphone. Please wait till you get it. And if you can say who you are, you affiliation name, so our audience at home also knows about that. And if you can be concise, that will help us have more questions.

So, please.

Q: Yes, thank you. Amy Bondurant.

Yesterday we heard Secretary Clinton give an important address on national security, building on President Obama’s response to ISIS, and Republican candidates have been speaking about this. What do—role do you envision for Germany and for Merkel in terms of the ISIS response?

HAMILTON: Do we have any other points on that, related? OK, why don’t we—who would like to?

CRAWFORD: Well, I mean, that gets back to the question about, is—essentially, is Germany going to back up its ambitions with defense capabilities? And I think the answer is probably no at the moment. So I think that we’ve seen—we’ve seen steps forward in terms of the kind of diplomacy that Holger mentioned, which is not unimportant in terms of the Iran deal—which probably wasn’t really reported here, but Germany was part of the dynamic there. And certainly the foreign minister, Steinmeier, is—he would like to use that as a template elsewhere. And in terms of getting people all on board, don’t forget that we had these talks—successful talks, surprisingly successful talks—in Vienna last Saturday, which the Germans were involved, on Syria.

But essentially, to be brief, I don’t think we’re going to see Germany bombing in Syria anytime soon.

DONFRIED: I’m happy to comment on this as well. First, I just want to make sure we all understand the point that Holger made, which was about Germany sending weapons to the Peshmerga. I mean, for most Americans, it’s like, whoop-de-doo, OK, great, you know. Why is that significant? Because it was overturning decades of German policy. German policy has been that it will not send weapons into a conflict zone. So I nearly fell off my chair last summer when I heard that the German government made a decision to send lethal assistance to the Peshmerga.

And it’s interesting when you hear someone like the defense minister talk about that decision. You know, they were very critical of the debate in this country about arming the Ukrainians. So, then, why were they supportive of arming the Peshmerga? Because the German assessment is that there is not a diplomatic solution to that conflict, and so that’s why they were willing to do it. But I think it’s highly significant, and it’ll be interesting to see if other similarly surprising decisions come in the wake of that. So one point.

And a second point is, what are the mechanisms that we could imagine being used for Germany to play a greater role? And we’ve talked about the fact that you’re not going to see German unilateralism on use of military force. So then you think about an EU context or a NATO context. OK, we had President Hollande decide to invoke this article in the EU Treaty, sort of the solidarity clause, and everyone’s asking, what does that mean? And I love the fact that it’s Article 42.7—(laughter)—because it says so much about EU treaties, but that’s a side point. (Laughter.)

STARK: It does.

DONFRIED: So, you know, you invoke this article and you’re looking for solidarity. Does that mean that the EU is now all going to join a bombing campaign against Syria? No. Does it mean that there could be deeper intelligence cooperation among EU member states? I don’t know. That raises hugely sensitive issues around data privacy and civil liberties, but that would be arguably a very smart thing to do in the wake of the attacks that we saw in Paris exactly a week ago.

It also could be the way that the French get more help from their European Union partners in areas outside of Europe, like the missions in North Africa, like Mali, and that is interesting to me. Will we see Germany giving greater support to France in some of these other areas to free up French capabilities to combat the Islamic State in Syria? I would watch that space.

And that necessarily brings you to the NATO question. I mean, obviously President Hollande did not decide to invoke Article 5, and there’s been an interesting conversation in this city about whether that would be a good or a bad thing. And people who argue it’s a good thing say, well, it would show solidarity of NATO allies in the wake of these tragic attacks in Paris. Others say, well, maybe it’s not such a good thing because those NATO member states that want to be contributing to the anti-ISIS coalition in terms of bombing in Syria are doing so already, and maybe if Hollande had asked Article 5 to have been invoked it would have shown that there wasn’t a lot much else that NATO as NATO was willing to do.

So I think these are really interesting conversations that are hugely relevant for the debate in Germany because Germany will only step up that involvement in a multilateral context.

HAMILTON: You know, just on that, today there was—the Commission—European Commission proposed an EU intelligence agency. And the first voice saying not going to happen was the German interior minister, who said, you know, this has to remain a national issue.

And you know, I just came back from NATO yesterday, and I think the issue there—what was interesting, the French didn’t ask for Article 5, but they also didn’t ask for Article 4 of NATO, which is simply to have consultations on this kind of crisis. And if you think it to 9/11, you know, the United States was also reluctant to have an Article 5 declaration, but the European allies were the ones who called for it. And this time, no one’s calling for this Article 4 consultation. Even Germany, France’s closest ally you could argue, didn’t—no one really kind of pushed that stream, including the United States. So I think there are some issues here about degrees of solidarity and whether we think the instruments we have are relevant to the challenges we’re facing.

OK. Yes, Allan. Please wait for the microphone.

Q: Allan Wendt, formerly with the Department of State.

My question involves the euro. Chancellor Merkel seemed determined to prevent Greece from abandoning the euro when arguably Greece would have been better off if it had its own currency. It could devalue, stave off the flow of imports, and whatnot. Was her motivation primarily political, or was it rather economic—Greece, with the euro, remains a captive market for German exports?

HAMILTON: Any related questions on the euro crisis, anything like that? OK.

Anybody like to tackle that one?

CRAWFORD: I mean, I feel the economic component wasn’t about German exports. I don’t think that they add up to much to Greece. It’s a very small part of the European Union as a whole.

In the whole crisis over Greece, Merkel again went against public opinion in Germany—most recently the first half of this year, when the German public would have been extremely happy to see Greece leave I think it’s fair to say, because they felt essentially that there was a very abrasive government which was doing everything it could to undermine Germany and try and form an alliance against Germany. And in this instance there was an interesting split between Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, where he proposed this plan for Greece to do exactly that—to have time out from the euro—and the rest of—I was going to say the rest of Europe, but certainly the big countries—France, Italy—were against this proposal.

But Merkel essentially held the line to keep them in, and the reason is political because the government didn’t want to leave. There were voices within the Greek government who, yes, wanted to leave, but the official policy was to stay in. But I think it was fundamentally because, financially, no one could predict what would happen if Greece left the euro because the idea would be that then the bond yields of all the other peripheral countries—in Portugal, in Ireland, then in bigger countries—Spain, perhaps Italy, even France—would blow through the roof, and other countries would get into serious difficulty, and that would hit Germany.

STARK: Yeah, Merkel was deeply convinced that an exit of Greece from the euro could lead to a destruction of the European Union at the end, or at least partly to that. And when we have this one overwhelming lesson from World War II, that is that a unified Europe is the guarantee for a peaceful solution. And that’s especially something that the German conservatives deeply, deeply had into their DNA, at least in the last decades. Helmut Kohl was the chancellor who basically cleared the road for European unification, and Merkel is on the same path. So, for her, it was the overwhelming goal to keep the European Union together at almost all costs.


Q: Hi. I’m Stefan Grobe with Euronews, European television.

Angela Merkel is the—

HAMILTON: Could you stand up just so—I think we need that for their cameras.

Q: OK. Thank you.

Angela Merkel is the president of a conservative party. That puts her, in theory, in the same camp with people like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, et cetera. What do you think—how do you see U.S.-German relations evolving after January 2017? And who would be Angela Merkel’s most favorite candidate? Who would she want to be the next president?

HAMILTON: Do we have any related questions on—(laughter).

STARK: Karen, may we leave this to you? (Laughter.)

DONFRIED: I think that Angela Merkel is a democrat, and she believes in the democratic process, and she will work with whomever is elected next U.S. president, and she will do it from the same principled pragmatism that reflects every other policy choice she makes.

I think the interaction is really interesting. And just to pick up on the point about Angela Merkel and her finance minister having had slightly different views during the third bailout for Greece—well, maybe during the first and second as well—you know, the fact of the matter is, we all remember Angela Merkel saying there cannot be a bailout of Greece, and now we’re on the third bailout of Greece. So, again, course correction. She brought the public along, actually.


DONFRIED: She was very popular throughout. If we look at her opinion ratings in April, she was at 75 percent this year.

But it’s interesting this interaction with the finance minister, Schäuble. So Wolfgang Schäuble is the other dominant figure in her party. And on the one hand, some of the criticism in the eurozone during the refugee crisis has been Schäuble taking jabs at Merkel, but it also has been very useful for her because it shows that there is a difference of opinion within her party. And he’s been able to voice those views, and therefore voters know she’s taking them onboard, but then she makes a different decision. And I see that same interaction happening in the eurozone crisis—in the refugee crisis that we saw on the eurozone crisis.

So it’s interesting. You can see how she works quite effectively with people from different walks of life, and she may have that opportunity with the next U.S. president as well.

STARK: And again, the pragmatic approach, I think she would adjust to anybody who would be in the White House—although it would be a fascinating experience to see her dealing with Donald Trump, for instance. (Laughter.)

DONFRIED: And not only for Angela Merkel would that be a fascinating experience.

STARK: Absolutely, yes. So I think she would—she would probably deal with him like she deals with Putin or so. But—(laughter)—let me—let me—let me add one question. The real interesting—

HAMILTON: This is on the record, just to—(laughter).

STARK: Really interesting would be to see how she would get along with Hillary Clinton—two strong women, two women as potentially the most important leaders of the world, or at least under the most important leaders of the world. I think that would be an interesting test because she’s not experienced to deal with a strong woman, at least, not on the head-of-states level.

HAMILTON: Although she has dealt with Secretary Clinton over the years in their different roles as well.


Q: Thank you. Sonia Schott with Diario Las Américas.

I would like to know how to explain, since Germany has been always the driving force of the European Union regarding these refugees crisis, why Germany seems to be the leader in this regard instead of going with all the European Union countries together and try to give a response to the immigration crisis or the refugee crisis? Why it seems to be German alone without the rest of the neighborhood? Thank you.

HAMILTON: Any other questions related to the refugee crisis here? Hope.

Q: Hi. Hope Harrison, George Washington University.

I just want to commend the Council for doing more things on Germany. I think it’s great. I’ve been waiting a few years and it’s finally happening, and I think that’s one indication of the growing importance of Germany. So I hope these will continue.

You talked about Merkel making the decision in September to, you know, be more open to the refugees. And I found that a really fascinating moment because before that what was at least dominating the headlines here was, you know, sort of violent opposition to those refugees in Germany. And I felt at the time very much that Angela Merkel perhaps was partly thinking of German history and, you know, the view of Germany, and wanting to show a very different face—you know, remembering the Nazi past—and really stepped in there to say, you know, these people on the fringes who are so violently opposed, you know, they do not represent the majority and they don’t represent me. And so I’m wondering if any of you know any of the specifics of how she decided to open the borders more.

HAMILTON: OK, so back to the refugee crisis. Is Germany doing this on its own? Is it leading? How does her own view figure into this?

CRAWFORD: Well, there are various elements here that this—it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that thousands—hundreds of thousands of refugees would come to Europe because they’ve been trying to come in for several years, predominantly as a result of the Syrian war, which is four-and-a-half years on. And refugees were predominantly coming across the center of the Mediterranean, which was a hugely hazardous route. And if you remember, earlier this year there were a number of tragedies, but there were hundreds of people killed when one ship went down. And what the border agencies and Frontex noted is that there’s been a shift of people going across the less-hazardous route through Greece. And so, with this shift in pattern, then, as well as with developments with the Islamic State, then you had two different dynamics that were pushing people up. And in fact, the European Union summit, the leaders had addressed the issues of refugees crisis on two separate occasions this year, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to Merkel. This had been building.

Now, as we know, she takes her time to formulate a response to any particular crisis and then—it was interesting to me that she went away on holiday, her summer vacation, and came back, and the first thing she did was she visited a refugee center. And that was the first indication—public indication we had that this was—after Greece had died down a little bit, this was on her radar. Then we do know, in terms of a fixed point, that her language was—for the leader of a country was incredibly strong—that she visited this refugee center in eastern Germany, on the other side of the street people were yelling abuse at her, calling her a traitor, and the chancellor came out after visiting this refugee center and she said that I can have nothing to do with this kind of view, that there must be zero tolerance for attacks on refugees. And we know that she was deeply affected there, but that was one concrete moment we know of. We know it had been bubbling for a long time.

In answer to your question, why is Germany alone? Merkel has been pleading for months for the other European countries to come onboard and help with a specific system of redistributing refugees. And for various reasons, it’s political dynamite, as it is in the States. It can—France, for example, they cannot do it because of the rise of the National Front. In the U.K., it’s also politically toxic. All of Eastern Europe has more or less refused, for various political reasons. So Germany’s more or less on its own.

STARK: And don’t forget one very important point. Germany is different from the U.S. In the German constitution, we have the right for people to seek asylum if they are under political oppression somewhere else. That’s one of the lessons of the Nazi time in World War II, because Germans had to flee their own country, and to find—and to look for asylum somewhere in the world. So in the German constitution, it’s guaranteed for people who are under political oppression that they can come to this country and get asylum. And I mean, the situation in Syria is in many ways comparable to how they—how the Islamic State treats people as the Nazis did in the ’30s and ’40s in Germany.

So there’s a deep, convinced view of Merkel that, in times of such a crisis, people deserve to get shelter and to get a—get a protected place where they can be. And of course, Germany is, by economical terms, the most powerful country in Europe. So she is convinced that Germany—as Karen said, that Germany can take several hundred of thousands of refugees.

And this Dublin Treaty—just one last sentence—the Dublin Treaty, which says that refugees have to stay where they first hit the European Union, it’s in many ways a lie because it puts a lot of pressure on Italy, on Greece, on the—on the Balkan states, so on the outer rim of the European Union. Germany is somewhere inside. And as Merkel saw how unwilling Eastern—the Eastern European countries were to treat those refugees, she, in a pretty spontaneous moment and a pretty emotional moment, said yeah, wir schaffen das, we’re able to do that, and those people are allowed to come.

DONFRIED: I just want to foot-stop this point about the power of the past in all of this. I mean, when Merkel was elected 10 years ago, there was a question about how committed she would be to European integration. And what we saw during the eurozone crisis is one of the principles she was defending was that she was not going to be the chancellor of Germany and see Greece leave the eurozone because the butterfly theory. It’s a little butterfly, 2 percent of the eurozone economy, but you don’t know what the implications of that are. And if there is a chance that could lead to the euro disappearing and the European Union being fatally wounded, that was not what she wanted to preside over. So this commitment to European integration is there, and this understanding of German history.

So when—you know, as Alan said, it’s not a surprise, actually—maybe the numbers were not anticipated fully, but we remember the March European Council meeting of earlier this year, when Renzi allegedly said, if this is solidarity in Europe, I don’t want it. This had been a front-burner issue for much of this year, so it didn’t catch her by surprise in that sense. But I think when she looked at what was happening and calculated, we can’t stop these refugees from coming, but we as Germany also cannot send them back because German history is singular, so I somehow do have to be the welcome culture, we’ve got to figure out how to manage that—and that’s proving more of a challenge than perhaps was anticipated—but that’s what I meant by this principled pragmatism, that she does have a view of the role Germany needs to play and that is what is informing some of these really quite hard decisions that she’s making.

HAMILTON: Yes, right here. Please.

Q: Thank you very much. I’m Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson from the German Historical Institute.

And my question goes also back to this idea of how can you find a balance between doing what’s, in Angela Merkel’s view, morally the right thing and her desire of keeping the European Union together. Because at least the way I felt was when the Grexit was discussed—you know, Greece leaving—a lot of people said in Germany, well, we’d rather see Greece leave than Britain, because Britain is getting into a stance now more and more critical, and they’re going to have a referendum next year on remaining within the European Union. And a lot of British friends of mine are saying, well, the more cost it will be—and you know, Greek crisis was more cost on the rest of the EU—the more critical that gets.

And now we have the refugee crisis, and one of the most outspoken opponents of Merkel on the European front has been David Cameron, blaming Angela Merkel—not only criticizing her stands in being so open, but actually coming out, and British politicians have been blaming her for encouraging refugees to come to Europe. Basically, he’s her fault, and therefore Germany should deal with it alone. And how do you think that Merkel can find a way to balance this, to somehow get Britain onto track in helping out? Because in the long run, I think—and that’s why so many Germans are so frustrated with the situation. It’s not that they feel we can’t let people in, but they feel frustrated that, outside of the Scandinavian countries, nobody else in Europe seems to be willing to pull the weight. Some of the Eastern Europeans can’t, for economic reasons, but the other countries such as Britain simply say no, and if you push us on the issue we will leave the EU.

HAMILTON: OK. We’re coming to the end, so let me—I think there was another question right here. Let’s just gather and so that we can have a final round for our panelists.

Q: I’m Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School.

I keep wondering, how do you find jobs for all of these people? And who is it in the German structure that is starting to ask those questions and pull ideas together? Because all of a sudden having to find jobs for thousands and thousands and thousands of people can be really challenging.

HAMILTON: OK, so a few—you know, one thing that’s interesting, just to compare, is that during the Balkan crises I think Germany took in over a million Bosnians, Kosovars, and others, not too long ago, many of them Muslim. Most of them did not go home. They are integrated into German society. So it’s not as if—while this is a huge outflow since World War II for Europe, we have not—this is not suddenly something completely new. It has happened before, and other countries have taken in their share. I just wonder if there’s any differences now because of that.

The other thing just to mention, of course—somebody mentioned Scandinavia. I mean, the Swedes, I think, per capita are taking in more refugees than the Germans, smaller country. So it’s not as if Germany’s only doing this. But clearly the refugee crisis, as Karen said earlier, because it goes into neighborhoods and schools and community, is simply a different type of challenge than a traditional foreign policy challenge. And I think she’s being tested.

So let’s go just last point for everybody, if you can keep it brief, so we can keep our audience on time. Holger.

STARK Yeah, I would say the challenge of integrating the refugees is probably one of the biggest challenges ever. And on the one hand, Germany could try to use it. Germany’s population is decreasing, as many Western industrial societies are. So on one hand, it could be a great advantage to find the right people for the right kind of jobs.

On the other hand, it’s a great challenge. If you fail at doing that, you have hundreds of thousands of young male—men sitting in asylum houses without any kind of jobs, any kind of perspective. I mean, what are they going to do? They are probably establishing a parallel society. They are looking for ways of gaining money without going to work somewhere.

So you better invest in that field. It will be very important for the political outcome, and it might be dynamite if you fail on that. So I would say that’s not only for politics a huge challenge, but also for the economy, for all those companies and businesses. So we better prepare to invest a lot of time in that field.


CRAWFORD: Well, certainly what Germany is doing at the moment is that the government appointed the head of the labor agency to also run the program to try and integrate refugees into the workforce. So they’re actually—as far as I understand, the wheels are in motion. And it being Germany, it will probably be relatively efficient. (Laughter.)

As for Britain, Britain I think that the debate in the U.K.—I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t mix these debates; that it’s not Cameron who’s criticized Merkel. He’s been very careful not to do that. But of course, other U.K. politicians have because the whole issue of Europe in the United Kingdom is toxic. And I think it’s difficult, but possible to parse what the language is and what the actual meaning is. And I think that in Germany, Merkel and others, they are exasperated by the kind of rhetoric in the United Kingdom, but I think they know to strip off some of the more abrasive tone to get to the nub of the matter of what does David Cameron want, to allow him to present it as a victory to keep the United Kingdom in the EU.


DONFRIED: So on the question about can we find jobs for all these people, demography is destiny. And so you do have this other side of the migration/refugee crisis, with Germans saying, we actually need this migrant population. And then the challenge is, how do you integrate them? And there’s a language issue. There’s also an employment issue.

But just to pick on a point Alan mentioned, is you’ve had some key German business leaders stand up and say this is good for Germany. And one of them is Dieter Zetsche, the CEO of Daimler, who’s created special trainee positions there for some of the refugees. So I think the real question will be, can Germans successfully integrate this population? But they do need that population.

And then on Britain and the EU, one piece of this will be the package that the EU can put together in response to the letter that Cameron finally penned with his demands, and I think there is trade space there. And I think there is the opportunity to put on offer reforms that Cameron can then sell to his constituency.

But the other point is, when you think about these crises—eurozone, Russia, migration—all of those touch on incredibly sensitive issues in an EU context. And when we think about European integration, the two most successful areas of integration have been money and borders—had been creation of the euro, member states giving up sovereignty over their currency to create a single European currency; members giving up sovereignty over their national borders to create the Schengen Area. You do have a consensus that was built around eurozone policy. It was really messy and it was hard, and there was a lot of anger and resentment, but you got to yes. The same way on Russia: you got to yes.

And this is the challenge now for Europe: can they build a workable consensus among the 28 EU member states? And I will suggest that I’m mildly optimistic about this because I don’t see a national solution to this problem. I don’t see how you deal with a refugee and migration crisis more effectively by retreating to national policies. And so I think that the member states can see the added value of a European policy. But that is the test. And if they can do that, it could actually be a net positive in that U.K. debate. But the jury’s still out.

HAMILTON: Thank you.

So we’ve been conducting a power profile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which, if thought of my German friends, a machts profil—(laughter)—of the chancellor. That would stun them that we would even do such a thing. (Laughter.) So it’s a very American sort of thing to do.

But in that spirit of good faith, Holger Stark, Alan Crawford, Karen Donfried, thanks to you for joining us. Thank you to the audience. (Applause.)


This is an uncorrected transcript.

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