As if her stock was not already high enough, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s domestic popularity soared to near euphoric levels in Germany yesterday after her apparent success in brokering a Ukraine ceasefire, and signs that she is poised for a compromise with the Greek government over its debt problems.
The press marvelled at the 60-year-old Chancellor’s stamina after a gruelling week of transatlantic shuttle diplomacy, capped on Wednesday by a 17-hour overnight negotiating session in Minsk and followed immediately by a European Union summit in Brussels.
“Man oh man,” exclaimed the populist Bild newspaper. “The Chancellor is fighting as never before – these have been the toughest 30 hours of her life,” Hamburg’s Abendblatt newspaper declared: “She has been the voice of common sense in madness; she acted while others just talked.”
Ms Merkel was also warmly praised by German MPs from all parties, including the usually deeply antagonistic Left Party. Its MPs congratulated her for taking the lead for Europe over Ukraine and “not leaving the United States to deal with it”.
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
The fact that the French President François Hollande appeared very much in tow during their joint Ukraine mission raised her standing even more.
The German leader was already one of her country’s most popular post-war leaders, with a survey late last year finding more than 60 per cent of voters, including those who backed other parties, thought she did an excellent job.
Her popularity has more to do with her abilities as a leader who can “fix it” for Germany in Europe and on the world stage than her domestic political performance. She is well-used to marathon diplomacy and compares herself to a “camel” going without water in her ability to keep negotiating without sleep.
Ms Merkel catches up by escaping to the country cottage she shares with her husband near the east German town of Templin, where she was brought up.
With German exports at record levels, unemployment at its lowest for 25 years and Ms Merkel’s authority in Europe unquestioned, her supporters like to claim that she not only reigns supreme at home but is easily the most powerful leader on the continent. But her new-found leadership role has been won more by default than design.
Josef Janning, of the European Council of Foreign Relations, says her leading role in such issues as the Ukraine ceasefire is a direct consequence of Washington’s “leadership restraint”. “Germany has risen in importance because of a vacuum of leadership and by circumstances, rather than by its own doing,” he maintains.
After almost 10 unbroken years at the helm of her nation, Ms Merkel may have reached her zenith as leader. But paradoxically, she is also closer than ever to the unravelling of the objective of a “United Europe” she inherited from Chancellor Helmut Kohl, her mentor and predecessor.
First, it is far too early to talk about the success of the Minsk ceasefire agreement: new deaths were already being reported in eastern Ukraine as the ink was still drying on the accord. Right now, the possibility of a full-blown war on the edge of the European Union remains very much alive, despite Ms Merkel’s almost weekly telephone calls to President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Kohl’s maxim that German and European unity are two sides of the same coin – that coin being the euro – has also backfired for Ms Merkel. The single currency was meant to ensure that Germany would never again seek political domination in Europe. But to millions of Greek voters it has put Germany’s fiscal domination of Europe beyond doubt.
“Merkel get out” was one of the slogans displayed in Athens last month in the wake of Syriza’s election victory – a result seen in Berlin as a disaster for Germany’s European fiscal policies. Ms Merkel now finds herself playing an unwelcome debt write-off poker game with the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. Greece is threatening, if Europe does not deliver a debt write-off, to turn for help to Russia or China. If she does not compromise on the principles that have been the foundation of German economic power, the possibility looms of Greece becoming a Trojan horse for Russia in Europe – as does the risk of its exit from the euro. Either outcome would be a devastating political blow for Europe’s most powerful leader.
Deal or no deal: Tsipras talks tough
After his first Brussels summit with fellow EU leaders, there was plenty of bombast from Greece’s new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, who said Greece “would not be blackmailed”. But yesterday morning, it was back to trying to hammer out a workable compromise with the country’s creditors.
Mr Tsipras remained in Brussels for talks with the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Commission to lay the groundwork for a meeting on Monday of the 19 eurozone finance ministers.
While Mr Tsipras was quite upbeat yesterday, the Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who will chair Monday’s meeting, was not hopeful of a swift agreement. “I’m really still very pessimistic about that,” he said.Reuse content