The first female chancellor of Germany and the first from the former East Germany. She leads the centre right Christian Democratic Union and over ten years has consolidated her position as the most powerful politician in the European Union. She had a reputation for surviving because she could change in order to win others over, but her fairy dust has lost its sparkle in the years immediately before the Brexit vote. She has turned many in the Eurozone against her because of her monotone policy of austerity for those Euro economies not doing as well as the German one. Her domineering attitude towards Greece was a particular problem and it was unhelpful that she was punishing the Greek government at the same time as the migration crisis was unfolding on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Merkel angered many Central and Eastern European states by announcing an open door to refugees, as this encouraged long lines of asylum seekers to walk up through the Balkans towards Germany. She claimed that her concern was borne out of her background in East Germany, but a more likely reason is the demographic time-bomb facing the rapidly ageing German population. So serious is this that it is projected that Germany would lose its status of most populous European Union country to France over the next four decades. Germany needs migrants, but their arrival in large numbers has not gone down well in Germany so that Merkel is facing as much dissatisfaction at home as she is abroad.
David Cameron began exploring his in out referendum with the European Council at the same time as Merkel was pressuring Greece over their debts and trying to resolve the migrant crisis. Merkel seemed to regard the referendum as a distraction from the migrant and sovereign debt issues as she assumed that it was a political ploy as the United Kingdom was bound to vote to remain in the European Union. She looked visibly shocked when first responding to the vote to leave, but quickly became more conciliatory. She brought control of the situation within the European Council she dominates and distanced herself from the negativity against the United Kingdom of both the European Commission and the foreign ministers (including her own).
After more southerly European Union states closed off the walking route to Germany Merkel took the lead in negotiating a controversial agreement with Turkey. This entails every asylum seeker arriving in Greece being returned to Turkey and in return one Syrian refugee in Turkey accepted into the European Union as an asylum seeker. Technically this is in breach of United Nations refugee law, especially as Turkey does not have a good human rights record. Merkel pushed on and this policy has quelled the numbers of asylum seekers landing on Lesbos and other Greek islands. However Merkel courted further controversy when she supported a legal case against a German comedian who had criticised the autocratic Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Merkel has resisted calls to use the Brexit vote to move towards ever closer union among the remaining 27 countries of the European Union. She wants the departure of the United Kingdom to be without haste or rancour, no doubt because of the dependence of German industries reliance on exporting to the United Kingdom. Yet Brexit has shattered her dreams of moving towards a single European state. She is aware that even if the United Kingdom is the only departure that the referendum vote signifies a deep uneasiness with the speed of progress of her Eurozone centralisation project.
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