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How Merkel will be affected by the EU’s problems

Once the darling of the EU, Merkel's Germany needs to reboot quickly and fire up the bloc again

The latest reason for pessimism is Germany, which from being the undisputed leader of Europe has suddenly descended to being the basket case.

The latest blow: Chancellor Angela Merkel's struggle to keep control of the government after her bid to cobble together a new ruling coalition collapsed.

Dr Merkel, a leader of apparent modesty and good sense, now must choose between another exhausting round of coalition negotiations, a minority government or fresh election.

Meanwhile, Britain is leaving the European Union, and the task of disentangling 45 years of unity at times seems beyond the UK's weak government.

Italy's right, revived by gains in regional and local elections, is now the favourite to win a general election early next year.

Spain dismissed the government of Catalonia and rules it directly because the region voted for independence in an unconstitutional referendum.

Belgium, according to some of its ministers, will cease to exist in less than a decade, split between the Flemish (Dutch-speaking) and Walloon (French-speaking) regions.

Hungary, with the ruling Fidesz party buoyed by its adamant opposition to taking immigrants, now defies a European Court ruling that it must do so.

US President Donald Trump, regarded in Europe as a loose cannon, likes the EU no better than he ever did and thus will not help countries accustomed to being called the US' allies.

Many would have thought Germany would be the moderate port in the storm. But now, the tabloid Bild is asking: "How long can Merkel Stay in Power?"

While her conservative CDU-CSU coalition won the most parliamentary seats in the September election, it suffered enough losses to force it to seek unlikely coalition partners.

The social democratic SPD saw continuing a coalition with Dr Merkel as a recipe for decline, although it now says it will return if its members consent.

With such divisions, Germany does not just face a season of choppy politics; it threatens to head out of the zone which its politics have occupied for most of the post-war period.

That is, an agreement that the centre will hold and that anti-fascism is an attitude shared by all, part of the fabric of German society and its re-entry into the democratic world.

There is also another potential flashpoint.

The EU, in its negotiations with the UK on Brexit, presents itself as a united bloc of 27 dealing, reluctantly and severely, with an errant 28th.

In fact, it is a union in need of confrontation with its own inner and outer weaknesses, and incapacity to move to a more closely integrated bloc.

The present decline of Germany may be brief, since the country remains the most successful economy in Europe and one of the best governed.

Dr Merkel remains the most popular politician, and her reputation for rational government is well deserved. She has promised the EU that Germany remains committed to the union.

But the latest dvelopments should prompt reflection and action: What form of union is sensible for the 21st century?

And when one can be imagined, and agreed, a new framework for a diverse Europe, should be brought into being. - REUTERS

John Lloyd co-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is senior research fellow.

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