Angela Merkel

The world’s most powerful woman has taken a battering this year. German chancellor Angela Merkel won plaudits among liberals around the globe for her “refugees welcome” policy. But within the EU and inside Germany she faces intense pressure to reduce the huge inflows. While she was not responsible for triggering the movement of more than a million human beings from Syria and other troubled countries, many Germans are holding her accountable for failing to slow the incoming waves.

The most significant criticism emanates from the CDU/CSU bloc that she has led to three election victories in the past decade. Just when she seemed at the peak of her power, and relishing the prospect of the next election in 2017, comes the biggest shock of her career.

The crisis came to a head in the summer when thousands of refugees were stranded in Hungary with nowhere to go, and thousands more on the way. The normally cautious Merkel took a bold step. She suspended Germany’s right to return refugees to the first EU country where they set foot. The move was meant to be temporary and limited to Syrians. But refugees saw it as an invitation, especially as it was followed a few days later by a series of memorable refugee “selfies” taken with a smiling Merkel.

Ever since, Berlin has moved to tighten the rules, reducing cash handouts and planning restrictions on rights to bring in families. But wary of giving ammunition to a growing immigration-sceptic lobby, Merkel has avoided a clear U-turn. She also thinks closing borders is impractical.

So the refugees keep coming, and her problems keep mounting. Her job is not under immediate threat. But the invulnerability shield that she seemed to carry has gone.

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