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The Rise of German Isolationism

Summary:
BERLIN – In Germany’s recent regional elections, voters delivered a resounding rebuke to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union. With an increasing number of Germans losing confidence in a European solution to the ongoing refugee crisis, calls for German isolation and unilateralism are growing louder – and far-right political forces are gaining traction. This is highly troubling, but it should not be shocking. The European Union has consistently failed to find joint solutions to shared problems, even as it has been wracked by a series of crises. In the current refugee crisis, EU countries have shown a distinct lack of solidarity with Germany, with many refusing to take on even a small share of the burden. Despite the recent deal with Turkey aimed at reducing the flow of Syrian refugees, most Germans do not expect their EU partners to change course. This is all the more infuriating for Germans, given that their country bore the heaviest financial burden for the rescue programs carried out in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain in recent years. Add to that sense of betrayal the looming possibility of a British exit from the EU, and it is not difficult to see why Germans feel that distancing themselves from Europe may well be their best bet.

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BERLIN – In Germany’s recent regional elections, voters delivered a resounding rebuke to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union. With an increasing number of Germans losing confidence in a European solution to the ongoing refugee crisis, calls for German isolation and unilateralism are growing louder – and far-right political forces are gaining traction.

This is highly troubling, but it should not be shocking. The European Union has consistently failed to find joint solutions to shared problems, even as it has been wracked by a series of crises. In the current refugee crisis, EU countries have shown a distinct lack of solidarity with Germany, with many refusing to take on even a small share of the burden. Despite the recent deal with Turkey aimed at reducing the flow of Syrian refugees, most Germans do not expect their EU partners to change course.

This is all the more infuriating for Germans, given that their country bore the heaviest financial burden for the rescue programs carried out in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain in recent years. Add to that sense of betrayal the looming possibility of a British exit from the EU, and it is not difficult to see why Germans feel that distancing themselves from Europe may well be their best bet.

Of course, for some Germans, the lack of solidarity regarding refugees is simply a compelling excuse for blocking reforms that they never supported in the first place, such as the completion of a European banking union. But they are now attracting the support of a growing number of Germans who previously might have disagreed with their anti-EU stance. The notion that EU countries merely want Germany’s money – the French, for example, have openly advocated the creation of a “transfer union” – is on its way toward becoming a majority view.

Against this background, if financial crises were again to intensify, Germany’s EU partners probably could not expect the country to agree to any financial rescue programs. In other words, Europe’s real financial backstop no longer exists.

Thus, the failure to define a European response to the refugee crisis, underpinned by genuine burden sharing, is destabilizing Europe both politically and economically. Instability may not be surprising in Greece, which has received some €240 billion ($255 billion) in official loans since 2010 and is the main frontline country in the refugee crisis. But in Germany, which has been remarkably stable for...

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