segunda-feira, 14 de março de 2016
5 takeaways from Merkel’s election drubbing
5 takeaways from Merkel’s election drubbing
The stinging results of regional polls in three German states test the chancellor’s refugee policy — and her rule.
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG 3/13/16, 11:50 PM CET
BERLIN — German voters, going to the ballot box for the first time since Angela Merkel’s decision last fall to open the country to refugees, inflicted crushing defeats on the chancellor’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in two western German states.
Sunday’s regional elections in three of Germany’s 16 states were widely seen as a barometer of the public’s views on Merkel’s controversial refugee policy. Her conservatives had been braced for a reality check, but trusted in the polls that showed support for the chancellor remained strong despite the widespread unease in Germany over the number of refugees.
They were not prepared for what can only be described as a historic debacle. The CDU had hoped to retake two western German states, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, but instead recorded the party’s worst-ever results there. While the CDU managed to hold onto Saxony-Anhalt in the east, it also suffered losses there compared to the last election five years ago.
The chancellor’s allies argue that a decision by the two local candidates to distance themselves from Merkel’s refugee policy, which opened them to accusations of disloyalty, contributed to the loss. Even so, the decisive factor in the day’s defeats was the refugee strategy itself.
No party was hit harder than Merkel’s CDU, with declining support across the board.
The day’s big winner was without question the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The party ran a xenophobic campaign that played on public fears about refugees. It took nearly a quarter of the votes in Saxony-Anhalt, where it finished second. The party, which appeared on the ballot for the first time, won more than 10 percent of the vote in the other two states as well, signaling broad regional opposition to Merkel’s stance on refugees.
All of the established parties took a thrashing in at least one state. The Greens, for example, won Baden-Württemberg but collapsed in Rhineland Palatinate. The Social Democrats held Rhineland Palatinate but slumped in the other two states to historic lows.
But no party was hit harder than Merkel’s CDU, with declining support across the board. The result will have profound political implications for the chancellor both in Germany and Europe.
Here are five takeaways from these elections:
1. Europe’s center of power just shifted across the Bosphorus
Sundays’ defeat puts Merkel, and other European leaders, more than ever at the mercy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
EU leaders are due to meet with Turkey later this week to hash out a refugee deal that Berlin sees as Merkel’s last best hope to bring the crisis under control before it opens up further divisions in Europe. With thousands of refugees stranded in a make-shift camp on Greece’s border with Macedonia and more on the way, Europe can’t afford to let the Turkish deal collapse.
Ankara knows Merkel is desperate and is already asking a high price to take the problem off the EU’s hands: the acceleration of its EU membership talks; visa liberalization for Turkish citizens; and billions more in aid. Merkel has been courting the Turks for months, arguing that Turkey is the linchpin to any realistic solution.
Erdoğan, well aware that Merkel is isolated in Europe and losing influence at home, can be expected to exploit her weakness to drive a hard bargain.
2. The Willkommenskultur is dead
Until now, Merkel succeeded in pushing back challenges to her refugee policy. She ignored pressure from the CDU’s Bavarian sister party to impose strict border controls or to declare an upper limit on the number of refugees Germany will accept. Exit polls Sunday left no doubt that the refugee crisis was the overriding issue on voters’ minds and that many are unhappy with the status quo.
In the coming days, Merkel will face renewed calls from within her party to get tough. If the Turkey deal doesn’t produce quick relief, Merkel will likely have no choice but to agree. Her government has already passed a slew of new legislation aimed at preventing abuse of asylum rules. But hardliners in her party want a crackdown. This time, her interlocutors are unlikely to take no for an answer.
Alternative for Germany (AfD) supporters celebrate the announcement of the first predictions in the parliamentary elections in the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate
3. Let the race (to succeed Merkel) begin
Until the refugee crisis hit, the German leader seemed all but invincible. But her failure to broker a broad solution at the European level, leaving Germany virtually alone to shoulder the problem, has left her exposed. Her approval ratings are back above 50 percent but have proved volatile. Sunday’s verdict was a clear warning from the electorate that Germans have lost patience with the chancellor’s deliberate approach to the crisis. Merkel argues, with justification, that the myriad challenges Germany faces on the refugee front won’t be solved overnight.
Yet, the election loss changes the dynamic. For the first time, her own party critics can point to hard election results to argue that her policies are having a detrimental effect on them. Though Germans are roughly split between those who support and those who oppose the chancellor’s course on refugees, many in her own party are in the latter camp.
With Merkel’s party already divided on the issue, it’s only a matter of time before challengers emerge. It’s still very unlikely she would be ousted as chancellor between now and the next round of elections, expected in the fall of 2017. But if she doesn’t turn the tide in her favor soon, she may either decide or be forced by her party to forgo another run.
4. Germany is veering right with the rest of Europe
For years, Germany appeared to be an island in Europe as the only major country without a strong far-right populist movement. Political scientists and columnists debated the degree to which the German anomaly was rooted in the trauma of the country’s 20th century history.
Turns out these voters were always there, they just weren’t voting. In all three states that held elections Sunday, the main source of the AfD’s support was from voters who hadn’t cast a ballot in the last election. It also poached hundreds of thousands of voters from the established parties, in particular, Merkel’s CDU. The AfD’s strong showing reflects deep dissatisfaction in many parts of Germany with the political establishment.
Support for such parties in other countries has proved volatile. While the refugee backlash proved to be a perfect match for the AfD’s anti-foreigner message, support for such parties in other countries has proved volatile.
Nonetheless, that the party managed to capture between 12.5 percent and 24 percent of the vote in its first running in the three states that held elections on Sunday is nothing short of stunning. It suggests that AfD, which has morphed from an anti-euro movement into the kind of right-wing populist party typical across Europe, is here to stay.
The CDU and the CSU, its more conservative Bavarian sister, will likely be tempted to try to recapture the support they’ve lost on their right flank.
So far, those attempts have largely failed, as voters opted for the original.
5. Green is the new black
The victory of Green incumbent Winfried Kretschmann in Baden-Württemberg could have far-reaching consequences for Germany’s party landscape. The result was the best ever by the Greens in a state election. Even more striking was that it occurred in Baden-Württemberg, a CDU stronghold for decades that can hardly be described as tree-hugger country.
The conservative region is Germany’s industrial heartland. Both Mercedes and Porsche are based there as are scores of small and medium-sized companies that form the backbone of the German economy. That the state voted Green illustrates how moderate some chapters of the party have become in old age. Under Kretschmann, a pragmatic white-haired grandfatherly figure, Baden-Württemberg’s Greens have all but lost their hippie image.
Though most voters said they voted for Kretschmann — whose approval rating is over 80 percent — and not the party itself, the success offers a path for Greens to gain power. Kretschmann’s moderate message isn’t shared by many Greens, including much of the party leadership in Berlin.
Still, what’s striking about Kretschmann’s victory is that much of his support comes from former CDU voters. The results suggest that a Green-led coalition with the CDU, referred to in Germany’s party color spectrum as the Blacks (due to the CDU’s proximity to the Catholic church), is the most likely outcome.
It wouldn’t be the first time the two parties have formed a coalition, but it would mark the first Green-led coalition. Among the CDU’s options for coalition partners at the national level, some believe a Black-Green federal government could be in the cards after next year’s elections.