Germany: Beginning of the End of the Merkel Era?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) suffered a major blow on September 4 when the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany, led by Frauke Petry (right), surged ahead of her Christian Democratic Union in elections in her home state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.

 

  • The anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) surged ahead of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in elections in her home state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.
  • The election was widely seen as a referendum on Merkel’s open-door migration policy and her decision to allow more than one million migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East to enter Germany in 2015.
  • Merkel rejected any course correction on migration policy: “I am very unsatisfied with the outcome of the election. Obviously it has something to do with the refugee question. I think the decisions that were made were correct.” She went on to blame German voters for failing to appreciate her government’s “problem-solving abilities”
  • Many of the AfD’s positions were once held, but later abandoned, by the Merkel’s CDU.
  • A September 1 poll showed Merkel’s popularity rating has plunged to 45%, a five-year low. More than half (51%) of those surveyed said it would “not be good” if Merkel ran for another term in 2017.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered a major blow on September 4 when the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) surged ahead of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in elections in her home state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.

With 20.8% of the vote, the AfD came in second place behind the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) (30.6%). Merkel’s CDU came in third place, with 19% of the vote, the worst result it has ever had in Meck-Pomm, as the state is called for short.

The election in Meck-Pomm was widely seen as a referendum on Merkel’s open-door migration policy and her decision to allow more than one million migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East to enter Germany in 2015. The migrant influx has resulted in a notable increase in crime in the country. The growing sense of insecurity has been exacerbated by a series of attacks this summer by Muslim migrants in which ten people were killed and dozens more were injured.

The CDU debacle in Meck-Pomm yields two main conclusions: 1) Merkel’s hopes of winning — or even running — for a fourth term in general elections in 2017 are now in doubt; and 2) the AfD is a force to be reckoned with in German politics. It can longer be simply dismissed as a “fringe party.”

The leader of the AfD, Frauke Petry, said: “This is a blow for Merkel, not only in Berlin but also in her home state. The voters made a clear statement against Merkel’s disastrous immigration policies. This put her in her place.”

Local AfD leader Leif-Erik Holm told supporters: “We are writing history. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship. This must be our goal.”

Gero Neugebauer, a professor of political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, said:

“People will see this defeat as the start of the ‘Kanzlerdämmerung’ (twilight of the chancellor). If a lot of CDU members start seeing this defeat as Merkel’s fault, and members of parliament start seeing her as a danger for the party and their own jobs next year, the whole situation could escalate out of control. If the AfD defeats the CDU again in Berlin in two weeks, things could get ugly fast.”

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Ralf Stegner, the vice president of the SPD, said the CDU was in a “state of panic” over the rise of the AfD and that Merkel has become a liability to her party:

“Merkel has clearly passed her zenith. It is a disaster for her that the CDU has fallen to third place with under 20% in her own state. This is a serious crisis for the CDU and it bears the names of Merkel and Seehofer. Some people now believe that Merkel no longer leads the debate with Seehofer about her 2017 candidacy. Throughout its history, the CDU has been merciless to its chancellors if there was the impression that the party was facing a massive loss of votes.”

In a September 6 interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, CSU leader Horst Seehofer, said the “disastrous” election outcome in Meck-Pomm was a direct consequence Merkel’s migration policy. He added that Merkel had ignored “multiple prompts for a course correction” and that her refusal to budge threatens the future of the CDU. “Confidence in the government is dwindling rapidly,” he warned. “People do not understand how policy is made in Germany.”

CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer reiterated the call for Merkel to change course: “We need a cap on refugees, faster deportations and better integration.”

Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder agreed: “The result must be a wake-up call for the CDU. The mood of the people can no longer be ignored. A change of course is needed in Berlin.”

Merkel remains defiant. A day after the debacle in Meck-Pomm, Merkel rejected any course correction on migration policy:

“I am very unsatisfied with the outcome of the election. Obviously it has something to do with the refugee question. I think the decisions that were made were correct.”

Alternative for Germany (AfD)

In more ways than one, Angela Merkel is directly responsible for the rise of the AfD. In her more than ten years as chancellor, she has moved the CDU to the left on so many key issues that the party is no longer conservative in any meaningful sense of the word.

The Insa poll also found that in the Meck-Pomm election, the AfD siphoned off more than 55,000 votes from other parties. More than 22,000 CDU voters cast their ballots for the AfD; 15,000 SPD voters voted for the AfD; and more than 22,000 voters affiliated with other parties gave their votes to the AfD.

The party was originally founded to protest the German government’s handling of the eurozone crisis. Its founding manifesto stated:

“The Federal Republic of Germany is facing the most serious crisis in its history. The euro currency area has proved to be unworkable. Southern European countries are sliding into poverty under the competitive pressure of the euro. Entire states are on the verge of default.

“Hundreds of billions of euros have already been pledged by the federal government. An end to this policy is not in sight. This is excessive and irresponsible. We, our children and our grandchildren will have to pay for this with taxes, stagnation and inflation. At the same time, this is eroding our democracy. In this situation, the CDU, CSU, SPD, FDP and the Greens know only one answer: Keep it up!”

Petry also said the AfD is not opposed to “real refugees,” but it is against the hundreds of thousands of economic migrants who are posing as refugees. “There is enough space for refugees in Germany, but the problem is that we don’t distinguish anymore between migrants and asylum seekers,” she said.

Meanwhile, a September 1 poll for ARD television showed Merkel’s popularity rating has plunged to 45%, a five-year low, and down from a high of 67% one year ago. More than half (51%) of those surveyed said it would “not be good” if Merkel ran for another term in 2017. If national elections were held today, the CDU would win just 33%, down from 42% one year ago.

The poll showed one factor in Merkel’s favor: the lack of a political rival strong enough to challenge her.

Full article: Germany: Beginning of the End of the Merkel Era? (Gatestone Institute)

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