Sunday

22nd Oct 2017

Local elections to test Merkel on refugees

  • Polls indicate that anti-immigration party Alternative fuer Deutschland is set to win double digits in Sunday's three state elections (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Two men in an excavator and a tractor were digging on Tuesday (8 March) at a former tennis club in the south-western German city Offenburg.

“Waterworks,” one of them said. The site - the size of six tennis courts - is being prepared to house 500 refugees in container-buildings.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • A former tennis club will house 500 refugees in container homes (Photo: Peter Teffer)

A snow-covered umpire chair and some signs are the only reminders of the site's previous function.

A stone's throw away - or a decent tennis serve - Willy Verderio was doing his own construction. The retired German, born from an Italian father, was making the shed in his allotment spring-ready.

He had a nuanced view on the new function of the site, which is close to a residential area.

“We have to be vigilant”, Verderio said. He told this website many residents are afraid, noting that “young men” will be present among the refugees.

Just two months ago Germany was shocked by mass harassment of women during New Year's Eve celebrations, especially in Cologne. Some of the suspects were asylum seekers or other migrants.

Verderio is not in principle opposed to the refugee container village. In fact, he and his wife organise a weekly event in which they distribute second-hand clothes to refugees.

“Let's see how it goes and hope for the best,” he said.

He had a similar assessment of chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy, which has become known in Europe under the German phrase “Wir schaffen das”, meaning “We can do this.”

“She thinks she can do this, but we'll have to see,” said Verderio. He said he won’t be voting for Merkel's centre-right CDU party in Sunday's local election, but rather for the centre-left social-democrats.

Super Sunday

On 13 March, there will be elections in three of Germany's 16 states: Baden-Wuerttemberg (where Offenburg is located), Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saxony-Anhalt.

Together, they have 17 million of Germany's 81.5 million inhabitants. But the elections will be scrutinised for signs of a voters' assessment of Merkel's refugee policy.

The anti-immigration and anti-euro party Alternative fuer Deutschland (Alternative for Germany; AfD) is expected to score a big win.

“The refugee issue is of course a dominating theme,” said Michael Braun, who leads the CDU's election campaign in the Ortenau district of Offenburg.

“The actual themes, the state politics of Baden-Wuerttemberg, are somewhat pushed to the background, unfortunately,” he told this website in the CDU's local office, on the other side of town from the tennis court.

Offenburg's pride is that Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, represents the constituency in the Lower House of the German parliament in Berlin.

Last year, he burst on the international scene as the principal antagonist of his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis.

During the height of the Greek debt crisis last summer, Schaeuble, a pro-austerity hawk, became more popular than Merkel.

But his star power is likely to have faded, Braun said.

“Dr Schaeuble is of course a very respected politician, but the refugee issue eclipses all other themes,” Braun told EUobserver.

“The refugee policy has also arrived in our state's territory - it is not only a theme in the main cities.”

Braun said he still believes in “Wir schaffen das.” But he said that some voters are being lured away “by radical slogans”, referring to Alternative fuer Deutschland.

Founded in 2013, the new party passed the electoral threshold for the first time the following year, in the European Parliament elections.

Five of its seven MEPs later quit to make another new party, but AfD also scored subsequent electoral successes in state elections in 2015.

On Sunday (6 March), it received the largest share of votes yet: 13.2 percent, if initial results for municipal elections in Hesse are confirmed on Thursday. In the state's largest city, Frankfurt, it received 10 percent of the votes.

Braun said that those votes are a good indication for the upcoming state elections, but he noted that more than half of the voters were still undecided, and that local and state elections are two different animals.

“The AfD will take away the most votes from CDU”, he said.

Crumbling powers

AfD's leader Frauke Petry told German press that the double-digit result last Sunday was a “clear signal”.

“The power of established parties is crumbling,” Petry said.

In Baden-Wuertemberg the question will be if AfD can secure third place.

According to a poll by the Insa Institute, the Green party is ahead with 33.5 percent of the votes, followed by the CDU on 28.5 percent. The social-democrats and AfD both poll at 12.5 percent, with the liberals at 6 percent.

It is highly unlikely the AfD will be considered by any of the other parties as a coalition partner. But a good result for AfD might force establishment parties to enter a grand coalition.

For his part, Braun said the CDU is unlikely to enter into a coalition with the greens, even if they are the largest party. He instead expected his party to negotiate with the social-democrats and liberals.

Elsewhere in Offenburg, Ilse Herberg said she does not expect a landslide for AfD in her state.

“They will have a better result than last time, but will not do as well as in Frankfurt. People are more rooted here,” she told this website, while registering clients for Offenburger Tafel, a non-profit organisation that sells food at discount prices to poor members of the community.

Once a week those that can prove they have little to spend can buy donated groceries at the Offenburger Tafel for about 15 percent of their normal retail price.

A sign tells people what is available that week also notes how much of each products customers are allowed to buy: 10 zucchinis, six yoghurt, four packs of pasta, and one loaf of bread.

Herberg said more refugees are lately coming to her charity shop.

“I can only speak for Offenburg,” she said. “If every city is as well-organised as Offenburg - schaffen wir es.”

Merkel stands her ground on migration

The German chancellor Sunday ruled out closing German borders. She also vowed to help Greece and to fight for a European solution to the refugee crisis.

Opinion

EU-Turkey refugee deal doesn't add up

The EU-Turkey "one-for-one" resettlement deal doesn't make sense and won't work. But at least it puts the principle of resettlement in the fore of EU policy.

Merkel faces backlash after killings

The German chancellor faces mounting criticism at home for her refugee policy after asylum seekers carried out several attacks over the last week.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement