Can Merkel Win Reelection With Her Anti-Trump Platform?

Can Merkel Win Reelection With Her Anti-Trump Platform?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Angela Merkel has been crowned the new leader of the free world by a media giddy over her criticisms of Donald Trump. He is a convenient foil, allowing her to boost her approval ratings and avoid debating issues rightly raised by our president. The German Chancellor has blasted Trump for telling NATO members to up their military spending and for pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. She scorns his executive order placing a temporary halt on “unvetted” refugees entering the U.S. 

But Merkel is playing defense in these matters. Germany’s military spending is inadequate and now threatens its security while its nonsensical environmental policies have driven up energy costs and boosted emissions – a rare feat. Unlike the U.S., Germany will stay in the Paris accord, but fail to meet its commitments. Finally, only by adopting harsh measures to eject hundreds of thousands of refugees has Merkel staved off criticism of her open border policies. A single terror attack could upend Germany’s election.

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Trump is right about Germany’s defense outlays. Whereas the members of NATO commit to spending two percent of GDP on defense, Germany, the wealthiest nation in Europe, weighs in at an embarrassing 1.2 percent. Voters might applaud Merkel for saving taxpayer money in this manner, but years of under-investment could ultimately cost the country dearly. In the past year, Germany’s penny-pinching has led to shortages of soldiers and sniper rifles – both essential to counterterrorism efforts. In 1983, Germany boasted 335,500 soldiers and 4,254 tanks; that is now down to 59,300 people in uniform and 306 tanks. If Russia were to invade Ukraine, or if the country faced a serious terror emergency, they would not be able to respond.

Merkel has included in the current budget an eight percent hike in defense spending, a move she claims was independent of Trump’s prodding. That would bring the figure to $42 billion, a far cry from the $680 billion U.S. taxpayers will provide this year. If the country is unable to prevent future terror attacks, Merkel could be held responsible. Just ask Theresa May, now under the gun for having let UK police ranks thin while she was Home Secretary.

Merkel’s open door to refugees exposed her and her country to considerable risk on this front and dragged down her approval ratings in the wake of five terror incidents last July. By August, 65 percent of Germans disapproved of her performance while 34 percent approved. After a Tunisian man who had been denied asylum killed 12 people in a rampage at a Berlin Christmas market last December and the Bundestag sustained numerous cyber attacks, Merkel’s government ramped up security measures, mainly aimed at new arrivals. Merkel’s Interior Minister proposed centralizing and beefing up Germany’s counterterrorism efforts and establishing deportation centers which would make it easier to send failed asylum seekers home. Some in her party wanted to ban burqas.

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Days after she criticized Trump’s temporary travel ban on “unvettable” refugees, Merkel announced efforts to expedite expulsions of some 200,000 people, largely from the same countries targeted by the President. Her comment that “The necessary, resolute fight against terrorism in no way justifies a blanket suspicion against people of a certain faith -- in this case Muslims -- or a certain origin,” aimed at Trump’s proposal, smacks of hypocrisy. The difference is that Merkel welcomed the refugees she wants to deport into Germany in the first place, and Trump wants to avoid that misstep.

Merkel is also offended by President Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Accord, where she is similarly on shaky ground. On March 20, the very day of a major climate summit in Berlin, the government reported that emissions rose in 2016 by more than 1 percent -- the seventh year in a row that the country has failed to push down its carbon output. Thanks to a series of wrong-headed decisions, Germans pay nearly twice as much for electricity as consumers in the United States, where emissions have actually been declining.

The Chancellor decided to shut down Germany’s nuclear (clean) power generation after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, even though just months earlier she had declared the nuclear industry pivotal to the country’s future. The rapid dismantling of Germany’s nuclear power plants, at an estimated cost of 80 billion euros, has been chaotic and left the country’s utilities scrambling for substitute power.

To help plug the gap, Germany has added five new coal-burning power plants while also spending heavily to subsidize new renewable energy sources, rendering unprofitable many gas-fired (fairly clean) plants, which have subsequently closed.   

Related: After Summits With Trump, Merkel Says Europe Must Take Fate Into Own Hands

At the same time, the government has banned fracking, leaving untapped Germany’s plentiful natural gas resources. This not only has environmental consequences (natural gas replacing coal in the U.S. has reduced our carbon output) but unfavorable geopolitical ones as well. The choice means that Germany imports 90 percent of its natural gas; by far the biggest supplier is Russia.

It is almost inconceivable that a government could make a greater hash of its energy and environmental policies. Recent studies have concluded that Germany will likely not be able to reach its emissions targets. So, while Trump has decided that the Paris agreement is not in the best interest of the U.S., and openly opted out, Merkel plays along but will fail to live up to her promises. Which is worse?

Today, as Merkel campaigns for re-election, polls show her regaining a lead over her rival in September’s face-off and her party winning some key races in local elections. Aides talk about the “Trump factor,” acknowledging that criticizing her U.S. counterpart has helped Merkel’s reelection prospects. Nonetheless, she is vulnerable on a number of fronts: allowing more than a million refugees from war-torn countries to swarm over her country, lending support to a “green” agenda that disadvantages industry in Germany, and spending far too little on defense has weakened her nation. How convenient