Monday

5th Dec 2016

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.”

New Bulgarian president has bulging in-tray

The apparent pro-Russia leanings of Bulgaria's next leader, Rumen Radev, have dominated headlines. But his first major challenges will be to install a government and attempt to promote anti-corruption reforms.

News in Brief

  1. EU dismisses euro crisis risk after Italian referendum
  2. Italy result poses no risk to the EU, Sapin says
  3. EU asked to clarify links to Iran executions
  4. Italian economy minister tipped as caretaker PM
  5. EU tells US tech giants to act faster against hate speech
  6. Iceland's Pirates in bid to form government
  7. Danes are the happiest workers, study says
  8. Talks on wholesale roaming rules to start

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  2. CESICESI Congress Focuses on Future of Work, Public Services and Digitalisation
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  4. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  5. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  6. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  7. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  8. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  9. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  10. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  11. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  12. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)

Latest News

  1. No euro crisis after Italian vote, says EU
  2. Austrian far-right: beaten, but not defeated
  3. Czech, Slovak MEPs 'shocked' by EU comments on Castro
  4. Italy and visa-free travel on EU agenda This WEEK
  5. Italy referendum spooks eurozone
  6. Optimistic liberals look for more influence
  7. What the EU will learn from Trump's Taiwan blunder
  8. Liberals ponder Verhofstadt's chances for parliament top post

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  2. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World
  3. Swedish EnterprisesNew Rules for EU Anti-dumping Measures
  4. European Jewish CongressTakes Part in Building Resilient Communities
  5. UNICEFUniversal Children’s Day: UNICEF Calls for Global Action on Child Rights Violations
  6. Counter BalanceThe EU Bank Cannot be a Key Player in Europe's Response to the Plight of Refugees
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEvidence of Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Crimea
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Failed Military Coup in Turkey & The Mass Purges
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Climate Solutions at COP22 in Marrakech
  10. Counter BalanceNGOs Call on Development Finance Institutions to Act Against Tax Avoidance
  11. European Free AllianceTrump Victory and Brexit Show Urgent Need of Improving Democracy
  12. Martens CentreOur Transatlantic 9-11: Europe After Trump