The 7 best policy backflips of 2015
In her tenth year as chancellor, Merkel faced her toughest tests so far — to widespread acclaim.
Angela Merkel’s year of living dangerously
Remember when it was going to be a great year for Greece and VW?
From refugees to austerity to how best to combat terrorism, 2015 was a political whirlwind. Feeling dizzy? This could be why.
7. Merkel on refugees
July: The German Chancellor tells a sobbing Palestinian girl facing deportation: “Politics is sometimes hard. You’re right in front of me now and you’re an extremely nice person. But you also know in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are thousands and thousands and if we were to say you can all come … we just can’t manage it.”
Early September: Germany agrees to accept thousands of refugees stuck in Hungary, and Merkel says: “The fundamental right to asylum for the politically persecuted knows no upper limit; that also goes for refugees who come to us from the hell of a civil war.”
Mid September: Thousands of asylum-seekers arrive at Munich train station, and Merkel, under pressure from her Bavarian allies, reintroduces border controls at the frontier with Austria.
6. Hollande on citizenship
2010: François Hollande, along with others from his Socialist party, opposes then-president Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to strip dual nationals of French citizenship for some serious crimes.
2015: Hollande’s government advocates a constitutional change to take away the citizenship of dual nationals convicted of “crimes against the nation’s well-being,” such as terrorism.
Just a few days earlier, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira had said the initiative would not go ahead as it threatened the principle of jus soli.
“Removal of nationality,” National Front leader Marine Le Pen tweets, “the first effect of the 6.8 million voices for the National Front in regional elections.”
5. U.K. Labour on the fiscal charter
September: John McDonnell, Labour’s new shadow chancellor, says his party will vote in favor of Chancellor George Osborne’s fiscal charter.
“We will support the charter on the basis we are going to want to balance the books, we do want to live within our means and we will tackle the deficit.”
October: “I believe that we need to underline our position as an anti-austerity party by voting against the charter on Wednesday,” McDonnell writes in a letter to Labour MPs only days later, citing changed economic conditions.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw is overheard characterizing the ensuing meeting of the parliamentary party as “a total f—ing shambles.”
4. Osborne on tax credits
July 2015: In his summer budget speech the U.K. chancellor announced the income threshold for tax credits — benefits designed to help supplement the income of those on low pay — would be reduced from £6,420 to £3,850, while the rate at which the benefit is lost as pay rises would be increased.
November 2015: After heavy criticism and a vote in the House of Lords to delay the cuts until there was “full transitional protection” for those who would be worse off, Osborne cuts his losses and dumps the changes.
However, he tells the BBC the spirit of the reforms lives on: “We are moving in the right direction and we are making billions of pounds of savings in the welfare budget. But people raised concerns with me that the speed of getting there was too quick, that we weren’t doing enough to help families in the transition. And because the public finances had improved a little I could use some of that improvement to smooth the transition to that lower welfare economy. So we are heading in the same direction, we are just taking an easier path to it.”
The chancellor’s former chief of staff chalked the move up to political savvy…
3. Poland on the EU’s refugee relocation plan
Early September: Poland joins Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in opposing a European Commission plan for mandatory quotas for relocating refugees across Europe.
Late September: Poland votes with the majority of EU states to see the Commission plan passed with a qualified majority, agreeing to take in refugees.
November: Following the Paris terrorist attacks, and with a new conservative government in Warsaw, European Affairs Minister Konrad Szymański writes: “The European Council decision criticized by us to relocate refugees and migrants in all EU countries still has the status of binding EU law. But in light of the tragic events in Paris, we see no political possibility of carrying them out. Poland must retain full control over its borders, over asylum and migration policies.”
2. Nigel Farage on the UKIP leadership
March: Heading into Britain’s general election in May, the leader of the Euroskeptic party says: “It is frankly just not credible for me to continue to lead the party without a Westminster seat of my own. What credibility would UKIP have in the Commons if others had to enunciate party policy in Parliament and the party leader was only allowed in as a guest? Am I supposed to brief UKIP policy from the Westminster Arms? No – if I fail to win South Thanet, it is curtains for me. I will have to step down.”
May 8: Farage loses, and resigns the party leadership.
May 11: He’s back! After the party rejected his resignation.
“I was very surprised to find absolute unanimity in the room that I should not go,” Farage tells ITV News, of his attempt to resign to UKIP’s national executive. He says there was “frankly, almost emotion in the room saying I should stay.”
1. Tsipras on austerity
January: The Syriza party sweeps to power, with new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saying Greeks had “given a clear, strong, indisputable mandate. Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain.”
June: Tsipras calls a referendum on EU creditors’ demands for public spending cuts in exchange for a third bailout program for Greece. He urges people to vote No, saying the required reforms are “an ultimatum towards Greek democracy and the Greek people” and “an ultimatum at odds with the founding principles and values of Europe, the values of our common European construction.”
July 5: More than 60 percent of Greeks vote No, and Tsipras vows to return to the negotiating table with “a mandate for finding a sustainable solution and to take us out of this vicious cycle of austerity.”
July 12: Faced with a plan from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble for a Grexit from the eurozone, Tsipras bows to creditors’ demands for spending cuts and privatizations during marathon negotiations in Brussels.
“I overestimated the power of righteousness,” Tsipras says. He successfully urges the Greek parliament to approve the reforms, saying, “They won’t benefit the Greek economy, but I’m forced to accept them.”
September: Tsipras wins re-election, telling supporters the result is a message from Greeks to “continue the noble struggle we started seven months ago.”