Can Merkel withstand the pressure?

The terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market has reignited the debate about Germany's refugee policy. Angela Merkel's political opponents both at home and abroad are blaming her for the attack. The way the chancellor behaves and responds to populist agitation and xenophobia will be of vital importance for Europe as a whole, according to commentators.

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Financial Times (GB) /

Level-headedness instead of bellicose rhetoric

Merkel's reaction to Monday's bloody attack contrasts positively with that of her French counterpart to the Nice attacks, the Financial Times writes.

“Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, waited more than 12 hours after the attacks before addressing the public. France’s President François Hollande has reacted more rapidly and fervently to attacks on his country, immediately announcing measures to step up domestic security. … [After the attacks in Paris] Mr Hollande, by contrast, immediately declared in November 2015 that France was at war. Invoking a solidarity clause in the EU’s Lisbon treaty, he called on his European partners to help fight terrorism in Africa and in the Middle East. Such bellicose rhetoric is absent in Germany, and for good reason. ... It was notable that Ms Merkel conspicuously thanked those volunteers in her speech of condolence to the victims of yesterday’s attacks. Civil society’s support for her policy remains vital, both practically and politically. How Germany’s political leadership emerges from all of this depends on whether the government will be able to calm the spreading fears.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Merkel was wrong

Angela Merkel’s optimism was misplaced and is now damaging both the refugees and European unity, Jędrzej Bielecki from Rzeczpospolita believes:

“'We can do it,' was her reassurance in the summer of last year when hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq crossed the German border. Now that the whole truth about the attacker is emerging, these words have lost credibility. ... I remember how French diplomats commented with a certain irony on the German chancellor’s optimism a year ago. They come from a country that has much more experience with Arab terrorism than Germany. If it now turns out that they were right, then it will be above all the refugees who will suffer. The overwhelming majority of them are honest people who need our help. And European unity will suffer too, because for that it is imperative that Merkel wins the elections next year.”

Pravda (SK) /

Chancellor facing a difficult year

The presumed terror attack in Berlin and the resulting mood of insecurity won't make things any easier for Merkel in the coming election year, Pravda fears:

“Merkel has managed to survive all attacks from the right and the left, and stabilise her CDU. Terrorism has caused voters to shift their allegiances to the Alternative for Germany, however. The main topics of the upcoming election campaign won't be the economy or the country's finances, although Germany is in fine shape on both counts. The topics of security and migration will dominate the discourse. The AfD was quick to exploit these issues right after the attack in Berlin, with the accusation that the victims were 'Merkel's dead'. That shows the direction the election campaign will take. There's no telling how far such accusations could be taken if such an attack were repeated just before the election. Merkel is facing a very difficult year.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Agitators are stooges for terrorists

Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders has blamed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the attack in Berlin and tweeted a photomontage showing her with bloodstained hands. Columnist Bert Wagendorp condemns this reaction in De Volkskrant:

“Emotions are the weapons of the terrorists; rationality is Western society's best line of defence. So I believe that Merkel is in the right. ... Emotions are an response to an attack, but they are ill-suited as a guide for decisions. That would put us in the camp of those who want to destroy open Western society. Agitators and fear-mongers are stooges for the terrorists. ... Wilders has long been doing his best to poison the open, liberal society, to put reason on hold and blind the people with empty, deceitful boasting. And with solutions that aren't solutions at all but sick illusions which - if they were put into practice - would lead to disaster.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Politicians like Merkel are a thorn in IS's side

The terrorists of the IS are running their own election campaign for right-wing extremists parties in Europe, Corriere della Sera warns:

“This latest attack didn't just target the 'Christian Christmas festivities'. … It could also have aimed to influence the decision at the ballot boxes in various European nations, and therefore turn out to be an infamous 'election campaign' by the supporters of the caliphate. … Because the real goal of the jihadists is not to radicalise a few thousand Islamists but to radicalise us, millions of Europeans. What kind of enemy do those who lead their people in the holy war in Allah's name wish for? Rational leaders like Merkel, who are willing to take in those who are entitled to it and take care to act judiciously? Or leaders like Le Pen or Frauke Petry who ride the wave of panic and promise reactions that are so indiscriminate and random that they drive Europe's Muslim communities to the point of total confrontation?”

El País (ES) /

Germany is our last hope

The Germans won't succumb to populist xenophobia, Timothy Garton Ash writes in El País:

“What earthly reason have we to believe that Germany will be immune to the disease whose outward blisters are Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders? Well, several reasons actually. Germany is one of the few western democracies to be doing well economically. I have lost count of the number of times Germans have said to me, 'We’re a rich country and we can afford to integrate 1 million refugees.' There are not many countries in the world where you would hear that. Unlike Britain, Germany also has a relatively responsible popular press. ... And that brings us to probably the most important reason of all: Adolf Hitler. Precisely because Germany once had the diabolic epitome of populist xenophobia, it is now most resistant to it. Pray God that taboo holds.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Measured response deserves respect

Merkel's immediate reaction to the attack was commendable, El Mundo finds:

“'We will find the strength to live life the way we want to live it in Germany: free, together and open'. Brave words, considering that next autumn brings parliamentary elections in this country, and as we can see, jihadist terrorism and the subject of taking in refugees will dominate the debate. Maintaining coherence and continuing to defend the refugees the way Merkel has done deserves respect. … We should not confuse concepts as the parties of the far right do, who exploit the social turmoil that such tragedies generate. … Jihadist terrorism is not a consequence of a clash of civilisations because more than 90 percent of its victims are Muslim. … Therefore the far right is only damaging society by fuelling fear and xenophobia.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Chancellor's policy was naive and irresponsible

Angela Merkel bears responsibility for the attack, the national conservative daily Večernji list comments:

“For this attack at the heart of Germany and Europe Angela Merkel is mainly responsible because she didn't recognise the threat and didn't protect her citizens. Now it is becoming painfully and tragically clear how naïve her open-door policy was, and that it was completely misguided and irresponsible towards the German people and the European Union. Only the naïve who don't understand the nature of the Islamic terror the world is facing today will be surprised by this tragic epilogue to an irresponsible policy. … But the Berlin massacre is a good opportunity to speak openly about the future of Christianity-based European and Western civilisation as a whole. By allowing indiscriminate migration Europe is endangering the system of values it has built and protected for centuries.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Don't succumb to rabble-rousers' provocations

The attack in Berlin will make it even more difficult for Angela Merkel to maintain her centrist course, Der Standard observes:

“There will be thousands of accusations and thousands of demands regarding what must be done now. Perhaps some of them aren't all that bad - even if they come from the opposition. But that is the challenge Merkel now faces: she must weigh up the options - and then make decisions. And not allow herself to be provoked by the rabble-rousers. ... The AfD is only one of the challenges Merkel faces. This party is her political opponent, and naturally it sniffs a chance now. But even more of a challenge for Merkel will be to keep her own troops together after this dreadful event. For a long time tensions have been brewing between the CDU and its sister party the CSU. The conservatives are seething inwardly. Some will see now an opportunity not so much to oppose the AfD, but to adopt some of its demands.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Without Merkel Europe is at the mercy of dividers

A weakened Angela Merkel could mean a destabilised Europe, Corriere della Sera fears:

“The anti-immigration party AfD, which accuses Merkel of lying on the subject of security, is impeding the reconciliation between the CDU and the CSU that is indispensable for an election victory. And in Europe too, Merkel is losing credit. If her position in her own country is weakened her clout within Europe will also be reduced. This would make it easier for everyone to say no and attack her during those long nights in Brussels. With nationalist governments in several eastern European states and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, who wants to see her demise, the divisive forces could gain the upper hand in Europe. Particularly if the new White House led by Donald Trump gives up the Atlantic mainstay that guarantees Europe's security.”