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There are plenty of lessons the German Chancellor can learn from yesterday’s men

Denis MacShane
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Merkel Gives Government Declaration Prior To EU Summit
No European leader has made it past a decade in office without things going sour and sad (Source: Getty)

What is it about the rule of 10? Ten years at the top in European politics is more than enough. This month Angela Merkel celebrates her eleventh anniversary as Chancellor of Germany. She now has to decide whether to go on and on and seek another four years in the federal elections in September 2017.

But Merkel is no longer mistress of all she surveys. She faced strong opposition inside Germany and across Europe to her policy of an open door for millions of refugees and economic migrants from Arab and African countries.

She now says it was a mistake. Unlike Tony Blair over Iraq or David Cameron over his Brexit plebiscite, the German Chancellor can man up and admit she got it wrong.

Nonetheless, in next year’s Bundestag election, the Islamaphobe anti-European Alternative für Deutschland will win seats and the free market, but Eurofederalist Free Democrats will come back. The solidity of Merkel’s control of German politics via her coalition with a subordinate Social Democratic Party will disappear.

Last year, George Osborne was in Berlin boasting that Germany and Britain were joint leaders of Europe. Today, thanks to Brexit, Germany has lost its key partner. Resentment against Berlin’s strict budget orthodoxy is growing in France. Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi now puts out a statement a day blasting Berlin for its refusal to recycle its massive budget surplus to promote European growth policies.

So is Merkel entering her Auf Wiedersehen zone? There is no dominant European leader who has gone beyond a decade in office without it all turning sour and sad.

General de Gaulle had 10 strong years as President of France 1958-1968, and then stepped down when a referendum he called on constitutional reform was defeated.

Felipe Gonzalez was master of Spain 1982-1992. But when he insisted on staying in office, his last years were marred by death squad activity against the Basque terror group ETA, and rising corruption in Spanish politics.

Take Merkel’s own mentor, Helmut Kohl. At the end of his decade of power in the early 1990s, he seemed to reign supreme and was the indispensable figure of German and European politics. And then, as if from nowhere, it all collapsed. Kohl moved from being utterly dominant to being a broken figure.

Above all, there is Margaret Thatcher, who had ten domineering years after entering Number 10 in 1979, but was then ousted as she tried to go on and on.

So if Merkel believes she is indispensable and goes on into a second decade of power, stand by for disappointment. Her generous offer to millions of refugees has turned sour. Trying to find any solution to Brexit will take years – it is now seen across the Channel as a lose-lose future for a Europe that will be unhappy for some time to come.

£ Denis MacShane is a former minister of Europe and a writer on European policy and politics. He is a senior advisor at Avisa Partners in Brussels. His latest book is Brexit: How Britain Left Europe (IB Tauris) is published this week.WHAT is it about the rule of 10? Ten years at the top in European politics is more than enough. This month Angela Merkel celebrates her eleventh anniversary as Chancellor of Germany. She now has to decide whether to go on and on and seek another four years in the federal elections in September 2017.

But Merkel is no longer mistress of all she surveys. She faced strong opposition inside Germany and across Europe to her policy of an open door for millions of refugees and economic migrants from Arab and African countries.

She now says it was a mistake. Unlike Tony Blair over Iraq or David Cameron over his Brexit plebiscite, the German Chancellor can man up and admit she got it wrong.

Nonetheless, in next year’s Bundestag election, the Islamaphobe anti-European Alternative für Deutschland will win seats and the free market, but Eurofederalist Free Democrats will come back. The solidity of Merkel’s control of German politics via her coalition with a subordinate Social Democratic Party will disappear.

Last year, George Osborne was in Berlin boasting that Germany and Britain were joint leaders of Europe. Today, thanks to Brexit, Germany has lost its key partner. Resentment against Berlin’s strict budget orthodoxy is growing in France. Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi now puts out a statement a day blasting Berlin for its refusal to recycle its massive budget surplus to promote European growth policies.

So is Merkel entering her Auf Wiedersehen zone? There is no dominant European leader who has gone beyond a decade in office without it all turning sour and sad.

General de Gaulle had 10 strong years as President of France 1958-1968, and then stepped down when a referendum he called on constitutional reform was defeated.

Felipe Gonzalez was master of Spain 1982-1992. But when he insisted on staying in office, his last years were marred by death squad activity against the Basque terror group ETA, and rising corruption in Spanish politics.

Take Merkel’s own mentor, Helmut Kohl. At the end of his decade of power in the early 1990s, he seemed to reign supreme and was the indispensable figure of German and European politics. And then, as if from nowhere, it all collapsed. Kohl moved from being utterly dominant to being a broken figure.

Above all, there is Margaret Thatcher, who had ten domineering years after entering Number 10 in 1979, but was then ousted as she tried to go on and on.

So if Merkel believes she is indispensable and goes on into a second decade of power, stand by for disappointment. Her generous offer to millions of refugees has turned sour. Trying to find any solution to Brexit will take years – it is now seen across the Channel as a lose-lose future for a Europe that will be unhappy for some time to come.

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