Wednesday

21st Oct 2020

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 %).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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.

Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure

MEPs will vote this week on a supposedly historical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for over one-third of the EU's annual budget. But as it stands, it is set to become a historical failure of catastrophic proportions.

Baltics pin hopes on Biden

On a 2016 Latvia trip, vice-president Joe Biden told Baltic leaders not to take Donald Trump seriously. "Don't listen to that other fellow. He knows not of what he speaks", Biden joked. Months later, Trump was in the White House.

Ghost town haunts future of Cyprus

One ghost town symbolises Cyprus' plight. Varosha, a Greek-Cypriot city in the occupied district of Famagusta on the east coast, has been cordoned off by the Turkish military since 1974. This is why I never saw my mother's home before.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland first EU state to re-impose full lockdown
  2. EU countries agree farm policy reform
  3. EU corona-bonds attracted huge demand
  4. France seeks Putin's help on counter-terrorism
  5. Cyber attacks 'targeted health system during pandemic'
  6. Greece asks EU countries to halt military exports to Turkey
  7. Covid-19: Spain considers curfews in hardest-hit areas
  8. Study: Air pollution costs Europeans €1,276 per year

Europe has forgotten the 'farm' in 'Farm to Fork'

US secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue argues that the EU is taking an approach "more based on 'political science' than demonstrated agricultural science" in its new Farm to Fork strategy.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. 'Big majority' of citizens want EU funds linked to rule of law
  2. EU declares war on Malta and Cyprus passport sales
  3. EU Commission's Libya stance undercut by internal report
  4. Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure
  5. EU money used by neo-Nazi to promote Holocaust denial
  6. Over 80% of Europe's habitats in poor or bad condition
  7. EU's Brexit move could end deadlock in talks
  8. EU's migrants more at risk from coronavirus

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us