Thursday

23rd Nov 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 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.

  • 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 EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik

If, as the EU claims, the Eastern Partnership summit is not a format for conflict resolution, where else will the security issues that hold the region back be resolved?

EU must confront Poland and Hungary

Curtailing NGOs and threatening judicial independence are the hallmarks of developing-world dictators and authoritarian strongmen, not a free and pluralistic European Union.

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

EU must confront Poland and Hungary

Curtailing NGOs and threatening judicial independence are the hallmarks of developing-world dictators and authoritarian strongmen, not a free and pluralistic European Union.

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

News in Brief

  1. December euro summit still on, Tusk confirms
  2. EU calls for end to Kenya election crisis
  3. Report: Israeli PM invited to meet EU ministers
  4. French banks close Le Pen accounts
  5. Commission relaxes rules on labelling free range eggs
  6. Commission issues €34m fine over car equipment cartel
  7. Estonian presidency 'delighted' with emissions trading vote
  8. Mladic found guilty of genocide and war crimes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  2. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  3. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  4. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  6. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  7. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  9. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  10. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  11. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  12. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure

Latest News

  1. Mali blames West for chaos in Libya
  2. Orban stokes up his voters with anti-Soros 'consultation'
  3. Commission warns Italy over high debt level
  4. Mladic found guilty for Bosnia genocide and war crimes
  5. Uber may face fines in EU for keeping data breach secret
  6. EU counter-propaganda 'harms' relations, Russia says
  7. The EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik
  8. Glyphosate: 1.3 million EU citizens call for ban

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  2. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  3. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  4. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  7. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  9. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  11. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  12. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened