Sunday

27th May 2018

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 %).

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.

  • 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.

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny

Most refugee-related services are outsourced to the private sector and NGOs, which are not adequately monitored and evaluated. When governments and EU institutions provide funding for refugee projects, they should scrutinise the NGOs and private players they work with.

Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny

Most refugee-related services are outsourced to the private sector and NGOs, which are not adequately monitored and evaluated. When governments and EU institutions provide funding for refugee projects, they should scrutinise the NGOs and private players they work with.

News in Brief

  1. Italy set to pick eurosceptic finance minister
  2. UK foreign minister fooled by Russian pranksters
  3. Rajoy ally gets 33 years in jail for corruption
  4. Close race as polls open in Irish abortion referendum
  5. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  6. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  7. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  8. UK households hit with Brexit income loss

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman requests more lending transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  11. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  12. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations