Border security, immigration, culture wars roil politics in Germany like in US
September 6, 2016
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party suffered a stinging setback last weekend in a state election where the issues showed striking parallels to those at play in the presidential contest in the United States.
On Sunday Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union received 19 percent of the vote in balloting in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, finishing behind the far-right populist Alternative for Germany with 21 percent.
The center-left Social Democrats, the junior partner in Merkel’s national governing coalition, finished first with 31 percent. German analysts saw the results as a repudiation of Merkel’s decision last year to open the country to thousands of mostly Syrian refugees.
It marked the first time in living memory that a far-right party had overtaken the conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union. All the more bitter was the fact that the drubbing took place in Merkel’s home state.
It was a stunning success for the Alternative party, known by its German initials AfD, which was founded in February 2013.
The deputy leader of the AfD, Beatrix von Storch, hailed the results as the “beginning of the end of the Merkel era.”
Mecklenburg-West Pomerania is a small state in former communist East Germany and has only about 1.3 million voters in a country of 81 million people.
Nevertheless, the Sunday results were seen as a bellwether for Merkel’s strength nationwide ahead of next year’s national elections.
She has not said whether she will seek a fourth term as chancellor. A national survey last month by the newspaper Bild showed nearly half the German public opposes a fourth term.
The AfD was founded to oppose use of the European common currency, the euro. Like U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, the party has seized on curbing immigration as its signature issue since Europe was flooded with a wave of refugees and migrants last year.
German politicians and analysts say the AfD’s shift has paid off. It now holds seats in nine of Germany’s 16 state legislatures.
“The situation for the (Christian Democratic) Union is highly threatening,” Merkel’s top Bavarian ally Horst Seehofer told a Munich newspaper. He said Merkel’s party had ignored “multiple calls” for changing the immigration policy.
Echoing language which Trump has used in the U.S., Seehofer said Germany must insist that immigrants embrace German the cultural values — a clear reference to Muslim refugees and migrants.
“Whoever wants to come to us must adapt to our values and not vice versa,” Seehofer said.
The AfD also attracted support from people who ordinarily do not vote — a goal of Trump’s campaign in the Nov. 8 presidential election. Turnout was 10 points higher than in the last state election.
Apart from immigration, some analysts believe, the AfD’s appeal shows a general dissatisfaction in Germany with the political direction of the country. That is similar to voter discontent with the political status quo in the United States — and a rise in nationalism that Trump’s “America First” slogan reflects.
“There is a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the direction that (German) society is moving,” German historian Paul Nolte told German television. “The liberal opening, whether for refugees or for gay marriage, even with globalization. And this dissatisfaction is projected onto the political system.”