Looking for future surprises that could shock the world? This would not be an exercise Europe's top leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel need these days. For her, the surprises, shocks, and upheavals are coming faster than ever. For years, she has played a key role in crisis management at the helm of the largest and strongest member country of the European Union.
What is causing unease in some quarters is the question of whether she can and will hold on to power after Germany's 2017 national election. Following the vote by the majority of UK citizens to leave the European Union, a major challenge for the bloc's leaders will be to keep the remaining twenty-seven-member European Union together. At this juncture of the historic European integration process, another Merkel "We can do this" could help. But she would need to widen her political base in Germany considerably and end the divisive quarreling among EU member states whose leaders she offended last year by not consulting with them before opening the German borders.
But she also would need a lot of luck to prevent the smoldering economic and banking crisis in the euro area from blowing up again. The failure to tackle structural reforms and overcome the lack of competitiveness in most EU states makes it harder to reduce high unemployment levels. Parts of Europe have been sliding into a stagnation trap. Also, the International Monetary Fund has warned that the euro area needs a "comprehensive strategy" to deal with 900 billion [euro] of non-performing loans on the books of eurozone banks. Italy's struggle to cope with their 360 billion [euro] in non-performing loans and the recent share price losses of major euro area banks--including Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank--should also raise the alarm bells in Berlin.
Whether Merkel--who has headed the German coalition government since 2005--will survive the refugee crisis and perhaps more terrorist attacks by Muslim fanatics is an open question. She faces other difficulties as well. A breakdown of the fragile EU-Turkey refugee deal could lead to a new wave of incoming refugees on Greek shores. Can she protect the stakes of Germany's export industries in the coming complex divorce negotiations with Britain after Brexit? Will she get the backing to contain the alarming erosion of European cohesion and solidarity in order to secure the European Union's external borders and distribute incoming asylum seekers from war-torn countries? She also needs to confront the potential damage of Brexit to Europe's security structures and NATO in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggressive strategy to weaken Europe and its transatlantic alliance in order to get rid of the U.S.-led sanctions regime.
NOW JIHAD STRIKES GERMANY
The latest shock is the spread of terrorist attacks to Germany. Unlike France, Belgium, Britain, and the United States, Germany had been spared the bloody attacks by Islamic fanatics. On the heels of the horrific attack in Nice on France's own the July 14 national holiday, when a 31-year-old Muslim killed 85 people by driving a truck on the city's promenade, a young Afghan asylum seeker, armed with an axe and a knife, attacked a group of passengers on July 18 on a train in the town of Wurzburg, leaving five people gravely injured. He was shot by the police. In a video posted online, that attacker had pledged allegiance to ISIS, which in turn took responsibility for the bloodshed he caused, calling the 17-year-old axeman a "soldier" of its self-declared caliphate. This was followed on July 22 by the "Munich massacre" in which nine mostly young people with immigrant backgrounds were killed by a youth who then committed suicide. Finally, the night of July 24, a 27-year-old Syrian blew himself up outside a music festival after he was turned away from the event by security workers. According to Bavaria's Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, a video was found on the bomber's phone showing him pledging allegiance to Islamic State, announcing "revenge" against Germany "for standing in the way of Islam." The same day, a 21-year-old Syrian man murdered a woman with a knife near Stuttgart, a killing that the authorities judged as "family related."
To quote Der Spiegel on how one of the largest German cities reacted to the news of a mass shooting: "The degree to which Germans have become susceptible to collective panic could be observed on the evening of July 22. When 18-year-old David Sonboly began his mass shooting in front of a Munich shopping center, many reflexively thought it was an IS attack against Germany. Within minutes, rumors began circulating on the Internet that a terrorist commando had gone on a killing spree in the Bavarian capital. The reports centered on men with assault weapons, on shots being fired on Karlsplatz square, and on detonations in downtown Munich. The social networks amplified people's fears even though they were wrought with speculation, half-truths and erroneous reports." As it turned out, the authorities were not able to put the Munich mass killing on the ISIS account, says Der Spiegel. "The perpetrator was a young German man with Iranian roots--and possibly racist motives--who wanted to lure people of the same age into an ambush. For a while, he was even regarded as a potential jihadist. There are no simple categories left for classifying these kinds of attacks."
But Daniela Schwarzer, director of the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund, argues that Germany is reacting to the deadly...