German Political Stability on the Brink

On March 13, Germany held state elections in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saxony-Anhalt. Seen as a lead-up to the 2017 German federal elections, the results delivered a disappointing, though not surprising, blow to mainstream parties.

Summary of Results

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/landtagswahlen-2016-das-sind-die-hochburgen-der-afd-a-1082181.html

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/landtagswahlen-2016-das-sind-die-hochburgen-der-afd-a-1082181.html

 

The Green Party maintained their popularity in Baden-Württemberg with 30.3 percent of the vote. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came in second with 27.0 percent of the vote and the new Alternative für Deutschland Party (AfD) came in third with 15.1 percent. In Rhineland-Palatinate, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) received 36.2 percent of the vote, the CDU 31.8 percent, and AfD 12.6 percent. Finally, in Saxony-Anhalt, CDU was somewhat able to maintain its hold on power with 29.8 percent of the vote. The AfD received a competitive 24.2 percent of the vote, but SPD only pulled 10.6 percent.[1] The real significance of this election is in the rise of AfD. The party is only three years old and it owes the current migrant crisis for much of its success.[2] AfD is a right-wing populist party running on a platform of limiting further immigration to Germany, particularly opposing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Open-Door Policy for migrants. In the past weeks Merkel has abandoned this approach, leading the European Union (EU) in controversial refugee talks with Turkey. Turkey and the EU have reached the conclusion that migrants seeking asylum in EU countries will be sent back across the Aegean Sea to Turkey, and the EU will provide more aid to the country to help cope with the high numbers of trapped people. Frauke Petry, the head of the AfD, went so far as to suggest openly firing at refugees attempting to cross borders to prevent them from entering the country unregistered. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has criticized AfD for being politically incompetent and for presenting no real solutions. [3]

An Unclear Future

Although the AfD did not win a majority in any of these three states, their mounting political traction is still significant as it shows new growth in the following of the far-right in Germany. Many have seen the results of this election as a threat to Germany’s mainstream political parties, namely Angela Merkel’s CDU. Both Baden-Württemberg and Saxony-Anhalt were previously led by coalition governments comprised of the Green-SPD and the CDU-SPD respectively. As a result of the recent election, neither of these coalitions are feasible anymore.[4] In Baden-Württemberg, AfD threw SPD out of the top three parties, leaving the party without enough votes to continue its coalition in Baden-Württemberg. The situation in Saxony-Anhalt is far more concerning. With 24.2 percent of the vote, the AfD has not only ensured that the CDU-SPD coalition is no longer an option, but it has gained enough power in the state to demand serious inclusion in politics. While the CDU won the simple majority, they are caught between a rock and a hard place. The only single party that CDU can form an absolute majority with is AfD. This leaves CDU with very few favorable options.

At the moment, Germany’s political system is still stable. Eighty-five percent of people voted for parties that support at least some of Angela Merkel’s policies.[5] However, this comes as only a minor comfort. The migrant crisis is reaching its tipping point in Germany and the European Union’s new policies are going into effect soon. Other representatives of the far-right have been slowly developing a voice in Germany over the last few years. Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (PEGIDA) sprang up in Dresden and protests publically every Monday. The sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve sparked an even stronger anti-immigration push. However, there is still time to push back. The popularity of the far-right has been able to develop due to economic and social pressures that grow into frustrations at the large influx of migrants, particularly refugees. Merkel need not accept xenophobic ideals from the AfD or from PEGIDA, but she should seek to eliminate some of the pressures that lead to these ideas in the first place. Continuing to hold fast onto policies that are quickly losing support will only give more power to far-right groups. Merkel and the CDU’s positions in the upcoming 2017 federal election are slipping, but more importantly, the very state of the German political system is being threatened as well.

[1] http://www.dw.com/en/german-state-elections-success-for-right-wing-afd-losses-for-merkels-cdu/a-19113604

[2]http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/landtagswahlen-2016-das-sind-die-hochburgen-der-afd-a-1082181.html

[3] http://www.dw.com/en/german-state-elections-success-for-right-wing-afd-losses-for-merkels-cdu/a-19113604

[4] http://www.dw.com/en/german-state-elections-success-for-right-wing-afd-losses-for-merkels-cdu/a-19113604

[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35801991

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