The leader is in grave trouble, her authority was dealt a lasting blow by last year’s general election, party members have lost faith in her and according to a Sunday newspaper, a senior colleague has said, “I can’t work with the woman any more.”
She maintains she needs more time so she can bring negotiations with her European partners to a successful conclusion. In particular, she wants her critics to stop rocking the boat, or even walking out, between now and the EU summit at the end of the month.
Her critics retort that she has had years to get somewhere with those negotiations, and giving her another fortnight is pointless.
Meanwhile The Financial Times quotes a senior EU official who says: “I don’t think we can solve her domestic issues. That is beyond us… It is so personal and politicised now.”
All this is taking place not in Britain but in Germany, for while the British press focuses on the difficulties faced by Theresa May, those confronting Angela Merkel are perhaps still worse. Horst Seehofer, the Interior Minister, has threatened to forbid entry to Germany by asylum seekers who are already registered in other EU countries.
Merkel has ordered him not to do this, for it cuts directly across her policy of seeking agreement with other EU countries on how to share out refugees. Seehofer made a great fuss about this, threatened to bring down the Government, but has now retreated, has denied saying he can’t work with her, and has told her she can have another fortnight to sort things out.
That does not, however, solve the problem. For behind the semi-obsolete figure of Seehofer, a man whose long career is not notable for taking a courageous stand on anything, can be seen Markus Söder, the Prime Minister of Bavaria, who in October faces elections in which his Christian Social Union is in great danger of being outflanked by Alternative for Germany, the anti-immigration party.
Ever since 1949, the CSU has been allied to the Christian Democratic Union, the party of Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Kohl and now Merkel, who overthrew Kohl. But traditional Christian Democrats have long questioned whether Merkel is really “one of us”.
She comes from the former East Germany, where she pursued a successful career as a scientist despite having a father who was a Lutheran minister, and thanks to this early experience of life under communism, is extraordinarily good at veiling her personal opinions.
But her personal preference seems always to be for doing deals with the Left, and appealing to liberal opinion. So in 2015 she opened Germany’s borders to a million of the refugees who were streaming out of Syria and other countries.
This decision brought AfD back from the dead. It did not become respectable, but it did become the preferred choice of voters who on the immigration issue, have become fed up with the respectable parties.
AfD is repulsively indulgent towards Vladimir Putin, in a manner which recalls some of the excesses of Donald Trump. But on immigration it is prepared, like Trump, to ask questions from which German liberals still shy away, for they find it easier to say that from a liberal perspective, the AfD is repulsive, than to address the concerns of the millions of voters tempted to support it.
Wolfgang Münchau today analyses Merkel’s predicament. If she is to attain a European deal on sharing out refugees, she will have to get Emmanuel Macron of France, whom she meets on Tuesday, on board. But he has demanded sweeping measures of financial integration in order to save the Euro, and if Merkel grants these, she will be accused of betraying German taxpayers, who were promised (albeit quite irresponsibly) that they would not be liable for bailing out the Euro.
And for Merkel to do deals with Italy and Greece, where so many migrants arrive, could be equally costly. In Rome, as in Vienna and Budapest, it is likely that Söder and Seehofer, with their demand for tighter control of national borders, can find better allies than she can.
The Brexit call to “take back control” is not such a strange project as some Remainers, wearing their European loyalties on their sleeves, would like us to think. It is part of a general feeling, found in the United States, Germany, Italy and many other places, that national borders should be less permeable than has recently been the case.
Merkel finds it difficult to admit this, for she is identified so much with the decision in 2015 to open the German border. May, by contrast, tends to be more intransigeant than most of her Cabinet colleagues on this question.
So while we concentrate for day after day on May’s problems, it is conceivably on Merkel’s difficulties that we should instead be focussing.