In August 2015, Germany agreed a third bailout deal for Greece, worth €86bn (£61bn). While 453 Members of Parliament voted in favour of the bailout, 63 of the 113 who rejected the bailout were from Angela Merkel’s own political bloc. Though the bailout deal passed comfortably, such internal resistance will have irked the German Chancellor.
Although Merkel is almost certainly the most powerful leader in Europe, she was not destined for her role in politics. Merkel was born in 1954, in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), otherwise known as East Germany, and she grew up behind the iron curtain. This gave her a unique perspective on the development of modern Germany and indeed modern Europe. She witnessed first-hand what people were willing to do, and to sacrifice, in the pursuit of freedom.
Merkel was selected as TIME’s Person of the Year for 2015. She certainly experienced a challenging year – wrangling with a hostile Greek government and leading the international effort to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis.
This latter crisis, which enveloped Europe towards the end of 2015, has continued to escalate in 2016. Whilst Merkel used her new year’s address to urge the German nation to view the crisis as an opportunity, the German Chancellor has faced a backlash from politicians within her own party and across Europe, particularly following recent events in Cologne.
Indeed, anti-immigration parties are beginning to exploit Merkel’s gamble to their own advantage. Alternative For Germany (AFD), a far-right party, achieved 4.7% of the vote in 2013, but was polling at 8% in November 2015. The rise of the far-right has culminated in attacks on refugee centres and buildings known to house those in need of shelter. The situation has threatened to spiral out of control. In October, prominent pro-immigration politician Henriette Reker was stabbed by a man while he shouted about the influx of refugees.
Moreover, on New Year’s Eve, men of North African and Arab descent attacked individuals in Cologne, Hamburg and Stuttgart. Merkel has subsequently proposed stricter laws for refugees, which would deny the right to seek asylum to those who had committed a crime.
On a personal level, Merkel’s popularity has also fallen. Her approval rating dropped from 71% in January 2015 to 54% in December 2015. Many believe that Merkel’s future will be determined by the refugee crisis. Her bold stance has shocked many; she has eschewed her caution and hesitancy in favour of a moral crusade to help those in need.
Merkel cannot turn back now. To reverse her open door policy would not only be an admission of failure, it would also contravene her belief that Germany can overcome the most perilous of crises.