But far-right parties make gains
by Adam Hamilton
Personal Wahl Reporter
Angela Merkel and her party the Christian Democratic Union were reelected with the most seats to the Bundstag during Germany’s election on September 24. Merkel, widely seen as the de facto leader of the European Union, has faced increasing criticism for her handling of the European migrant crisis. The biggest change in this election is the rise of new far right parties.
The AfD or Alternative for Deutchland won massive gains by winning seats in parliament for the first time. In the German system a party gains seats in parliament only if it crosses a five percent threshold. AfD did not clear that threshold in 2013, the last election, but hassince nearly tripled its popularity by taking hardline anti-Muslim and anti-immigration stances. The party is controversial in Germany because of its flirtation with neo Nazism and its targeting of Muslims as a religious group. Despite this AfD earned the third largest number of seats in parliament.
The election centered on Germany’s relatively open door policy for migrants and refugees in the wake of the Libyan and Syrian Civil Wars. Since 2015 nearly 900,000 refugees have made it to Germany, often by walking over the Eurasian land mass or by taking dangerous makeshift boats across the Mediterranean. While initially accepted with relatively open arms these migrants increasingly became a political liability for Merkel and her governing position as the arrival of refugees preceded a rise in crime, sexual assaults, and terrorism. Germany’s ruling coalition of the CDU and SPD (Social Democratic Party) lost significantly, dropping to 53.4% from 67.2% in 2013, with almost all the gain going to AfD.
Shulz, the former head of the European Parliament, struggled to distinguish himself from Merkel and was often outflanked by her on political issues. Shulz was unable to capitalize on the German dissatisfaction with migrants into the country because his party, the SPD was in coalition with Merkel when the policy was implemented and his past public support. Further, Shulz was unable to make headway with his push for income inequality because of how Merkel qualified the country’s economic success. Merkel attributes the improvements in the German economy since the late nineties to labor reforms but in place by Merkel’s predecessor as chancellor, Gerhard Schröder of the SPD. Letting the SPD take credit for these gains proved to be a double edged sword as Shultz and the SPD could not campaign against these reforms, allowing them to get outflanked on the left.
Merkel also managed to further weaken Shulz position by legalizing gay marriage. Shulz had campaigned in favor of gay marriage, which Merkel is personally against, and criticized her for her beliefs. Merkel allowed a vote to be held to legalize gay marriage to pass (while voting against it personally). This move helped take the momentum off social issues so that the SPD lost more seats than the CDU. SPD has decided that they will not form a coalition with Merkel and will instead lead the opposition leaving Merkel to form a coalition with two of the smaller parties, the Greens and the FDP, a pro-business party.
Migration in Europe has created problems of ethnic identity as German towns and cities increasingly accommodate large numbers of refugees that speak another language, have a different religion, and have different social practices. The open arms Merkel extended in the beginning of the crisis she justified as a response to the Syrian Civil War and Libyan Civil War, but as the years have gone on and the number of migrants went up Calls for the protection of Germany’s cultural heritage led to the rise of the AfD. This is the first time since the Nazi’s that the far right has a seat at the table in Germany, and their position will give them a voice.
Outside of immigration there seems to be a general consensus for German policy with Merkel as Chief. Merkel had called for a more Eurocentric vision since the election and behavior of Donald Trump. Trump’s election has caused uncertainty over his support of Article 5 of NATO, which requires all of NATO to fight if one nation will attack. She has pushed for a more active foreign policy, sending tanks to the Baltic nations and over 1000 soldiers to West Africa to support the French mission there. Germany’s Economy has continued to do well with high level specialized manufacturing producing a massive trade surplus. Merkel will also continue her efforts of supporting and emboldening European institutions which will gradually help further integrate the non Brexit Eurozone. There is still much work to be done, and in her twelve years of leadership Angela Merkel has been able to do right by Germany. In her next four she will have to confront the issue of migration and the German identity.