Will Angela Merkel get another term as Germany's chancellor? That will depend a bit on how things unfold when she gets back to Berlin from summer vacation on Monday. Her support has already taken a hit.
A number of matters await German Chancellor Angela Merkel upon her return from summer vacation. The five-year conflict in Syria and the resulting displacement of millions of people, a civil war in Ukraine and a post-coup crackdown in Turkey - none of these has improved in her absence; as expected, they've gotten worse.
For one example, tensions between Russia and Ukraine have increased over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The Kremlin has accused Ukraine of conspiring with "saboteurs" to launch attacks. Ukraine has countered with the same accusations. Though it has been impossible for outside organizations to independently verify the claims, Russia has already threatened retaliation and Ukraine's troops are on alert. The UN Security Council is taking up the matter.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is looking for support from his most important European partners. In February 2015, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande helped guide the two sides toward a resolution in Minsk. However, implementing that has lagged.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said it would be "completely nonsensical" for the four countries to hold any further meetings. And yet Merkel wants to continue pushing for a diplomatic solution that would involve equal parts pressure on and dialogue with Russia. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier could present new diplomatic options following his trip to Moscow on Monday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used the July 15 coup not only to consolidate his power, but also to criticize Germany's leaders at every opportunity. Merkel has unwaveringly defended the refugee-swap deal that the European Union struck with Turkey in spring, but the souring relations between the nation and the bloc have left its future in question.
The issue has domestic relevance in Germany, which is a major destination for people displaced from nations such as Syria. A majority of respondents in a recent poll said they were unsatisfied with Merkel's asylum policies. About 16,000 refugees arrive each month. That's fewer than the 90,000 who came at the beginning of the year, but it still means that 238,000 have sought refuge in Germany in the first few months of 2016. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees estimates that another 200,000 people will apply for asylum 2017.
Strongly connected to the refugee situation is the internal rift between Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sibling party, the Christian Social Union. CSU Chairman Horst Seehofer has criticized Merkel's asylum policy since the beginning. As the months have gone by, he has gotten louder in his criticism of the chancellor.
Now Seehofer has upped the ante, hinting that he might run as a candidate for chancellor in 2017. His popularity among voters is currently solid, while Merkel's has dipped, in particular after a string of unrelated attacks in July, two of which were committed by young men who had arrived as refugees. A series of party conferences are planned for the fall to bridge differences.
The CDU's standing has fallen with Merkel's. Polls put the party at 35 percent. In an effort to take votes from the right-wing Alternative for Germany, Merkel announced new domestic security measures at her summer press conference in July. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has since elaborated on them - including asylum and integration policies. The Social Democrats, who govern with the CDU and CSU in a grand coalition, must agree to the proposals, as well. A possible ban on burqas, the full-body garments worn by some Muslim women, could play an important role at the CDU party conference in December.