Initial praise for Merkel's lax migration stance has given way to widespread criticism both at home and across Europe. But the German chancellor has found an unlikely fan in Serbia, where Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has vowed to fight her corner.
Amid flagging support for her refugee policies back home, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has found an unlikely - and extremely loyal - supporter in Serbia.
Former hardline nationalist, now moderately conservative Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has offered the increasingly isolated chancellor his full backing.
“Today it is in fashion to criticize Angela Merkel,” Vucic said at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “Even if I am the last one, I will not take part in that.”
Known for decades as a regional villain due to his role in the two Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and his anti-Western stance, Vucic completed his transformation to pro-EU leader in recent years and now seems to be the staunchest supporter of Merkel’s embattled immigration policy.
After all, Vucic credits her with preventing the feuding Balkan neighbours from starting another fight - this time over what to do with migrants flooding the region from the south, by allowing them to continue on.
“I have heard much criticism of Angela Merkel recently. It is not justified. It does not stand. Merkel holds European values high and seeks a European solution,“ Vucic told the German daily Die Zeit Wednesday.
Unfortunately for Merkel, an increasing percentage of the German electorate does not agree. About 40 per cent of Germans think that she should resign as a result of her handling of the refugee crisis, which allowed over 1 million asylum seekers to enter German in 2015.
"Many Europeans stuck their hands out when money was passed, but don't want to pull together now when it's needed, and that's bad," Vucic said.
Countries across Europe have one by one increased border controls, prompting concerns that the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone may be under threat.
Vucic personally thanked Merkel when she visited Belgrade in July: “Thank you, Angela Merkel, for recognizing economic reforms we carried out in Serbia.”
When the European Union in December finally launched membership talks with Serbia after keeping them on ice for nearly two years, he said it again: “This is a success that many will want to claim, but I must thank Angela Merkel because she kept her word.”
“Without her help we will not be able to push things ahead,” he said.
Vucic also promised that Serbia will be a “reliable ally” of Germany and has grown fond of using German brands as a metaphor for excellence in his own country.
Presenting his government in 2014, he said that he wants it to be like football giants Bayern Munich. He has also praised a bus manufacturing project as the “Serbian Mercedes.”
He has taken to quoting German philosopher Max Weber and talking up his Protestant work morale as an example to his compatriots.
But he also does not shy from using his perceived special relationship with Merkel in order to push his own agenda at home. Speaking about the chancellor's Belgrade visit, he said it was “an honour for Serbia and a reward for me personally, as proof that I worked well.”