Does France’s election foreshadow trouble for Merkel?

As Steve noted earlier today, Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Front (FN) has done extraordinarily well in the first round of France’s regional elections. In addition, the ruling Socialist Party has suffered a huge setback.

The second and decisive round of voting will occur next Sunday, and a lot can happen between now and then. However, the Socialists have already dropped out of second-round elections in two major regions and I understand they might drop out of a third (there are 13 regions in mainland France).

Imagine the Democrats declining to compete for governors’ seats in five to ten states. The analogy is highly imperfect, but may provide some idea of the hit France’s Socialist Party has taken.

I wonder whether Angela Merkel might be heading for a fall in Germany. I know little about German politics, but it seems unlikely that voters there are happy with her decision to take in around one million Syrian refugees this coming year — just the kind of cavalier, tone deaf move that fuels a Marine Le Pen or a Donald Trump.

Key members of Merkel’s ruling coalition aren’t happy about it. Horst Seehofer, head of the conservative party in Bavaria, says that Merkel has until the end of the year to put together European deals to ease the impact of the refugee crisis on Germany. Much of the EU has balked at taking in refugees in anything like the numbers Merkel wants to impose.

The only realistic way to ease the refugee crisis in Europe is for refugees to stop flowing into the continent. Thus, Merkel has resorted, in effect, to bribing Turkey into taking action to stem the flow.

In desperation, she hammered out a deal between Turkey and the EU. The deal includes an initial payment of €3 billion from the EU to improve conditions for Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, an agreement to loosen visa restrictions on Turks traveling in Europe, and a promise from Brussels to “speed up the tempo” of negotiations on Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

The extent to which Turkey actually will take action that stems the flow of refugees in exchange for goodies from the EU remains to be seen. And even if there is some relief, I suspect that Merkel may be one Paris-style attack away from serious political jeopardy.


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