Monday

25th Sep 2017

Opinion

Stop the hysteria over Germany's little election

  • People are voting for anti-establishment parties because the establishment has let them down (Photo: Sascha Kohlmann)

R.E.M.'s song “It’s the end of the world as we know it” rings in my head as I sit in a hotel in the rock band's hometown of Athens, Georgia, in the US contemplating the regional elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, my native country.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party (19%) lost 4 percent of votes and finished third, behind the centre-left SPD (30.6 %) and the right-wing, populist Alternative for Germany (20.8 %).

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  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.

  • The hype over the AfD result is playing into its hands (Photo: Reuters)

These used to be insignificant elections in a fairly unimportant region.

But, it’s 2016. The alt-right Donald Trump is a US presidential candidate, the UK is leaving the European Union, and Austria is again (!) on the brink of electing Norbert “the nice Nazi next door” Hofer as the EU’s first far-right head of state.

These days, nothing seems as it used to be.

In 2016, the votes of just 800,000 people in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern seems enough for German and European media to herald the end of Merkel’s reign.

Almost all major European newspapers depicted the AfD’s success as a political earthquake, a fiasco for the CDU, and a major blow to Merkel’s aspirations for a fourth term in office.

Even the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, remarked on the right-wing shift in east Germany.

Despite a few more even-tempered remarks, the impression remains that the xenophobic AfD is rushing from victory to victory, while Merkel is on the ropes over her “we can do it” policy of welcoming refugees.

To be clear: the CDU lost precisely 3,868 votes on Sunday (4 September) compared to the last elections in 2011, as the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper noted. Also, while some 25 percent of the people voted far-right (for the AfD and for the neo-Nazi NPD party combined), 75 percent did not.

In Austria, where a xenophobic, far-right party like Hofer’s FPO can sway 50 percent of the population in a presidential election, there is plenty to worry about.

But in Germany, a country of 81 million people, elevating a regional election to the status of “elections on the chancellery” or “elections on Angela Merkel”, as the journalist Sebastian Fischer wrote in Der Spiegel magazine, is nonsense.

Not representative

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, despite being Merkel’s home, is far from being representative of Germany. It is a region that suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and has long had a strong neo-Nazi scene.

The result of this election was as predictable as bad approval ratings for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan among Kurdish Turks.

The AfD itself and Merkel’s enemies within her own party are the ones who benefit from this distortion of reality. The right-wing populists portray the result as more proof that they are a new mainstream party, despite having considerably lower approval in Germany as a whole.

Meanwhile, the wannabe regicides in the CDU, first and foremost the leaders of its Bavarian offshoot, the CSU party, are pushing for a decisive change on migration and security policies or, alternatively, for Merkel’s exit.

The CSU’s game plan is to themselves become right-wing populists - hollow in content, with a simplistic message - and it has proved quite effective.

Such a plan is by nothing to be proud of, however, nor is the CSU’s declaration of political bankruptcy desirable for the future of Germany.

Instead of counting Merkel’s last days or becoming fascinated by the AfD’s xenophobic agenda, media and politicians should address to the real causes of voters’ frustrations - their exclusion from Germany’s economic success and their disillusionment with political elites.

Apple syndrome

The situation makes me think of Ireland, where leaders (backed, incidentally, by CSU finance minister Markus Soeder) are refusing to accept €13 billion in taxes that the European Commission has said is owed to Irish people by US tech giant Apple.

It's the way that European leaders suck up to multinational corporations, instead of taxing them and investing in social welfare, that is doing more harm to the political fabric than the refugee crisis.

It's issues like these that should be top of the media and political agenda, not the little Mecklenburg-Vorpommern fiasco.

"It’s the end of the world as we know it … and I feel fine," sang R.E.M’s Michael Stipe.

Well, I don’t feel fine.

Bt I feel unwell because of German leaders' neglect of ordinary people’s real problems, not because of the hysteria over a few thousand votes in east Germany.

Florian Lang is a German post-graduate student at the University of Vienna, specialising in European far-right movements

Merkel warns German parties against populism

The German chancellor, in her first speech since the bruising defeat of her party to anti-immigrant AfD over the weekend, defended her migrant-welcome policy.

Time to de-escalate in Catalonia

Spain's apparent refusal even to allow for a dialogue on the referendum is giving the Catalan government less and less of an incentive to aim for a compromise.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel wins fourth term, exit polls say
  2. EU to hail 'aspirations' of former Soviet states
  3. UK says credit downgrade was wrong
  4. Dutch state appeals ban on taking air-polluting measures
  5. May proposes 2-year transition period after Brexit
  6. May to call on EU's 'sense of responsibility'
  7. Catalonia has 'contingency plans' for independence vote
  8. Last German polls confirm Merkel's lead

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEU Finance Ministers Agreed to Develop New Digital Taxation Rules
  2. Mission of China to the EUGermany Stands Ready to Deepen Cooperation With China
  3. World VisionFirst Ever Young People Consultation to Discuss the Much Needed Peace in Europe
  4. European Jewish CongressGermany First Country to Adopt Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EEFour Tax Initiatives to Modernise the EU's Tax System
  6. Dialogue PlatformResponsibility in Practice: Gulen & Islamic Thought
  7. Counter BalanceHuman Rights Concerns Over EIB Loan to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline Project
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina Leads the Global Clean Energy Transition
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeFrom Baking Moulds to Oven Mitts, Silicones Are a Key Ingredient in Kitchens
  10. Martens CentreFor a New Europeanism: How to Put the Motto "Unity in Diversity" Into Practice
  11. Access MBAGet Ahead With an MBA Degree. Top MBA Event in Brussels
  12. Idealist QuarterlyIdealist Quarterly Event: Building Fearless Democracies With Gerald Hensel

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Urges Bigger Global Role for Emerging Economies
  2. EU2017EEAre We Socially Insured in the Future of Work?
  3. European Jewish CongressFrench Authorities to Root Out "Societal Antisemitism" After Jewish Family Assaulted
  4. European Federation of Local Energy CompaniesClean Energy for All? On 10.10 Top-Level Speakers Present the Clean Energy Package
  5. UNICEFUp to Three Quarters of Children Face Abuse & Exploitation on Mediterranean Migration Routes
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEurope Under Challenge; Recipe for a Competitive EU
  7. European Public Health AllianceCall to International Action to Break Deadlock on Chronic Diseases Crisis
  8. CES - Silicones EuropePropelling the construction revolution with silicones
  9. EU2017EEEU 2018 Budget: A Case of Three Paradoxes
  10. ACCAUS 'Dash for Gas' Could Disrupt Global Gas Markets
  11. Swedish Enterprises“No Time to Lose” Film & Debate on How Business & Politics Can Fight Climate Change
  12. European Free AllianceSave The Date!! 26.09 - Coppieters Awards To... Carme Forcadell