The World from Berlin 'The Chancellor Doesn't Have Many Allies Left'

Angela Merkel isn't known for her brutality. But her firing of her environment minister has German editorialists taking a new look at the chancellor. They see a leader desperately trying to keep her party, and all of Europe, from falling apart at the seams.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had had enough of her environment minister.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had had enough of her environment minister.

Recent weeks have been tough on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition. The already shaky alliance has undergone a series of state election setbacks, the latest of which culminated in Merkel summarily firing her environment minister, Norbert Röttgen, on Wednesday.

Once seen as one of the chancellor's favorites, Röttgen apparently lost the chancellor's trust by leading her conservative Christian Democrats into a historic defeat in an important state election in the populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia last weekend. Then he reportedly refused to step down of his own accord despite pressure from the chancellor.

Sacking him was an extraordinary measure on Merkel's part, and one that many observers say reveals just how poisoned the coalition -- comprised of her CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, and the business-friendly Free Democratic Part -- has become.

Merkel, for her part, has instead cited the need for a new face in leading the country's so-called "energy revolution." One of the government's core projects, it involves Merkel's plan to decommission all nuclear power plants by 2022 and to obtain at least 80 percent of all energy from renewable sources by 2050. The chancellor had not been particularly impressed with Röttgen's handling of the project, though. She has replaced him with Peter Altmaier, a longtime confidant and secretary of the conservatives' parliamentary group.

The harshness Merkel exhibited on Wednesday caught many fellow party members off guard and many have been critical of what the German media has described as the chancellor's "ice cold" approach to Röttgen. Others have demanded an analysis of exactly what went wrong last Sunday in North Rhine-Westphalia.

On Friday German editorialists explore what the personnel change will mean for Merkel's political future, and whether Peter Altmaier is the right person to lead Germany on its path toward renewables.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Röttgen had become a danger to her future. The 'energy revolution,' so closely tied to the erstwhile 'climate chancellor,' is not going well. German industrialists, who see the chancellor's change of energy policy as wrong (and cowardly), feel that their fears have been vindicated.... Meanwhile the people have come to realize that doing without atomic energy has a price, and that wind turbines are no more beautiful than cooling towers, considering that they blanket the landscape."

"In light of this ongoing battle, it would be negligent for a chancellor -- who is now herself in the midst of campaigning after the black Sunday in Düsseldorf -- to send another wounded minister who doesn't even have adequate support from the coalition into the fire. But Angela Merkel likes to minimize known risks. Her relationship to Röttgen was rotten in the end. In place of the former ally … now stands a faithful friend. But the chancellor doesn't have many allies like Altmaier left."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The crash was loud, and the fall is complete. Angela Merkel fired her crown prince and burned the bridge behind her. She senses that all of Europe is at stake. She wants to establish clarity in Germany. There should be no doubt about her position of power in Berlin, along the Rhine, along the Seine or at the base of the Acropolis."

"The continuity of her government was also endangered, though. Such tendencies in the political arena can only be eliminated by a chancellor who demonstrates her authority with unquestionable, unbowed strength before everyone's eyes. … She did this on the day after she received the new French president and three days ahead of seeing him again at an important summit in the United States. It was a signal to Europe."

"Being one of Angela Merkel's protégés is a dangerous distinction. Particularly when this person fails to recognize that she is fighting the battle of her lifetime for Europe and has no use for egotism."

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The discharge of the environment minister offers the opportunity to observe the machine-like heart of German politics. It works effectively, precisely and without feeling. Röttgen lost an election and probably his authority as a minister, so he was replaced. Merkel did it so she wouldn't be replaced herself in the upcoming federal election."

"Ministerial changes are not necessarily an indication of crisis or collapse. … The crisis for Merkel lies elsewhere. Her center-right coalition no longer has a majority in polls -- not nationally, and not in any state except Bavaria. And because her junior partners, the Free Democrats, can't be relied upon … and her CDU has no other coalition options, they are structurally incapable of governing in the future. That is the crisis."

Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Sacking Norbert Röttgen is a dramatic intensification of the CDU's internal crisis. Another former political hopeful hasn't just been let go, but humiliated in a manner that is causing disquiet within the party. To plug this hole, Peter Altmaier must leave his important position as secretary of the conservatives' parliamentary group, where he has excelled at ensuring parliamentary majorities for Merkel."

"But the shake-up is a big chance for climate and environmental protection. Röttgen never fulfilled the high expectations once awakened by his intelligence, instinct for power or his closeness to the chancellor. … His successor, too, rouses great expectations. Peter Altmaier belongs to the more liberal wing of the conservatives. He is known as a strategic mind and a good communicator … and is both well-connected and a close confidant of the chancellor's. The conditions are there for a new start in the fallow climate policy."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

By firing Röttgen, "the chancellor will certainly have damaged her reputation for at least a while.... But in light of the upcoming federal election, the step will do her more good than harm."

"The weakened minister, meant to successfully implement the energy revolution, would have been a bigger risk if she had to drag him along until the election. … The chancellor admitted that the energy revolution is progressing sluggishly … But is the new minister Peter Altmaier the right one for the job? That is the residual risk for Merkel."

Business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"It is astounding how the chancellor is repeatedly able to turn negative developments into positive energy. It is an ability that she demonstrated as early as 2002 when it became apparent that she couldn't win the battle that year to become the conservative candidate for chancellor and stood aside in favor of Bavarian Governor Edmund Stoiber. At the time, it was seen as proof of her weakness -- since then, however, it has been reinterpreted as a sign of strength. It is these victorious defeats that are so characteristic of Merkel."

"On Tuesday evening in Berlin, for example, she elegantly turned away the freshly inaugurated French President François Hollande. His demands for growth will now become part of the typical machinations that occur prior to all European Union summits and will, in the end, come out in a form that both Merkel and Hollande can live with."

"One day after Hollande's visit, she announced Röttgen's firing. It is a message that her party, and the opposition, will be forced to deal with a different Merkel from now on. For the first time, Merkel didn't employ the services of spin doctors and political snipers as she so often has in the past. Rather, she took the offensive with eyes wide open."

-- Kristen Allen


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