How in these days of a worsening refugee crisis would a demonstrative expression of loyalty to the chancellor look in an interview? Certainly like this:
Chancellor Merkel is being sharply criticized for having welcomed the refugees. Did she make a mistake?
No! No! And once again no! Angela Merkel is not the reason that refugees are coming to us. The refugees were already there during the entire summer. It was a matter of averting a humanitarian catastrophe in Hungary.
According to a current survey, 56 percent of Germans are calling for an upper limit to the number of refugees . . .
. . . Stop foisting surveys off on me. How would that be done? By sealing the borders?
These words, from an interview in Bild am Sonntag, do not come from Wolfgang Schäuble, the second most powerful man in the Christian Democratic Union, but from former Green Party foreign minister Joschka Fischer. For now, such formulations are not to be heard from Mr. Schäuble. What the finance minister and erstwhile almost-chancellor is not saying provides an early answer to what is currently the most important issue of power politics in the German Republic:
Does Mr. Schäuble intend to remain loyal to the chancellor? Or is he ready to replace her if need be? Is he so closely linked to her policies that, in the case of her downfall, he would not be an acceptable alternative? Or is he maintaining a certain distance?
Things are very, very serious. The influx of refugees is not subsiding and Germany’s conservative parties — the Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union — are growing more and more nervous. It is conceivable that the chancellor could be overthrown. And everything that is conceivable for the near future also has an impact on the present.
The underlying logic of power asks: If Angela Merkel were to be overthrown by the CDU because of her attitude toward the refugee issue, who could succeed her? All the candidates mentioned early on as possible successors have already fallen by the wayside. Germany’s minister of defense, Ursula von der Leyen, is considered to be even more liberal than the chancellor with regard to asylum policy. She could not embody a shift toward rigidity and sealing Germany’s borders. Neither is Peter Altmaier an option. The head of the chancellery, who until recently was seen as a dark horse candidate, would have to resign along with the chancellor. Germany’s minister of the interior, Thomas de Maizière, is positioning himself slightly to the right of Ms. Merkel. But he is also held responsible by the CDU for the partial failure of state action. Horst Seehofer, head of the sister party CSU who has criticized the chancellor’s open-arms refugee policy, would be seen as the queen’s executioner and thus excluded from succession.
And what about snap elections? Ms. Merkel’s fall can only be imagined if the crisis comes to a head politically. From the perspective of the center-left Social Democrats, the government’s minority coalition partner, early elections would be pure madness in such a situation. They certainly wouldn’t help the SPD, which has supported Ms. Merkel’s policies. Instead they might catapult the Alternative for Germany to frightening heights.
And a "red-red-green" alliance of Social Democrats with the Left and Green parties — and the subsequent election of Sigmar Gabriel as chancellor — is excluded. Because an uprising against liberal refugee policies cannot be answered with a more liberal refugee policy.
These somewhat complicated considerations lead logically to a quite simple conclusion: There is only one alternative to Angela Merkel, and that is Wolfgang Schäuble. Already now, just as in the euro crisis, he is perceived in the CDU-CSU as more authoritative and securely on the right than Ms. Merkel. He is the one person who could signal to the world that "enough is enough!" — a message so deeply yearned for by many Germans.