How Merkel reacts to crises better than other leaders

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Jörg Luyken - [email protected]
How Merkel reacts to crises better than other leaders
Photo: DPA

It is of critical importance for a country how a leader chooses to react to an act of terrorism. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cool head sets an example for the rest of the country.


Merkel demonstrated in the press conference she gave on Thursday afternoon her moderation as a political leader.

On the one hand she supported military operations inside Germany in the event of a terror attack, a controversial position among her left-wing coalition partners. She also indicated a desire for further internet surveillance.

But at the same time she offered encouragement on strengthening gun laws Europe-wide and doing more to support refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Here are five takeaways from the conference which demonstrate how she reacted to this crisis better than other western leaders manage. 

1. She doesn’t react just for the sake of it

It was four whole days after the suicide bombing in Ansbach when Merkel stepped in front of journalists on Thursday afternoon. The time in between she spent at her holiday cottage north of Berlin.

Many foreign observers seemed to see this as a display of carelessness on her part.

But would an immediate speech to the public in this case have been correct? The Ansbach bombing led to the death of only the bomber. An immediate press conference risked blowing it out of proportion and playing into the hands of media-hungry Islamists.

Waiting demonstrated that she was taking time to reflect. As she put it on Thursday: “Fear should never be an advisor to a politician.”

2. She avoids overdramatization

Merkel’s approach was to put the incident in context. Germany had already seen Islamist attacks, including the shooting of US servicemen at Frankfurt Airport and the stabbing of a police officer earlier this year.

“We know since at least the Paris attacks that Isis also use refugee routes to smuggle terrorists through. We have also known for a long time about the travel routes taken by people who are threats to the state,” she said.

The message: we won’t respond in a knee-jerk way when our current strategy is already based around countering these risks.

3.. She restrains warmongering rhetoric

Unlike French President Francois Hollande, Merkel didn’t come out all guns blazing, talking about war and military strikes.

She did refer to a war against Isis, but even qualified this by saying it “is a struggle against Isis - in my opinion, a war”. This type of cautious language is important in not putting Isis on the level of a state actor, many experts say.

And she also emphasized that the attacks would have no foreseeable impact on Germany’s military campaign.

Speaking to The Local on Wednesday, terrorism expert Raffaello Pantucci said that "the reaction in Germany has been reasonable and sensible. They've reacted very differently to France, where Hollande has 'declared war' and in the German context that seems to be the right thing."

"The worst thing you can do is overreact by [making] mass arrests or declaring states of conflict. That can have a self-fulfilling prophecy; these groups are saying there’s a war of the west against Islam, and if we refer to a war it breathes life into their narrative,” said Pantucci, from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London.

“In reality these are small organizations and they don’t pose a massive threat. They can cause lots of misery and spread hate, but we can mitigate that by the right reaction."

4. She doesn’t budge for the populists

The standout quote from her press conference was of course her reaffirmation of the German phrase almost every non-German now knows: “Wir schaffen das [we’ll manage it.]”

Merkel no doubt knew this would become the headline - and after a week in which public faith in her refugee policy has been shaken, it was encouraging to see her reaffirm her commitment to refugees in the clearest way possible.

The fury from Alternative for Germany head Frauke Petry was immediate.

“Repetitive ‘we’ll manage it’. Admit your mistake at last.”

Other European leaders have a habit of giving in to the populists and their xenophobia. Most recently, this cost Britain its place in the EU. Merkel at least seems to understand that if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.

5. She encourages realism

One interesting point of the press conference was that she did not promise that this would not happen again. She is well aware of the complexities of the globalized world we live in and wasn't going to sugarcoat it.

She of course described the attacks as "harrowing, depressing and depraved" and pledged that her government would do everything it could to prevent terrorist attacks.

But she cautioned that "we need to check all of these routes [that terrorist could come in on] and also live with the danger of terrorism".



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