sábado, 12 de março de 2016
Far right and refugee crisis pile pressure on Angela Merkel
Far right and refugee crisis pile pressure on Angela Merkel
With three German states voting on ‘Super Sunday’, the chancellor’s Christian Democrats are braced for a rough ride
Kate Connolly in Berlin
Saturday 12 March 2016 21.07 GMT
As a pastor’s daughter whose Protestant ethics are said to be one of the defining characteristics of her more than 10-year-long tenure as chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has made it a strict rule never to drink during Lent.
But in the past few days travelling around Germany to bolster the chances of her embattled Christian Democrats before elections on Sunday, she apparently broke that rule and was seen to sip from a glass or two of some of the country’s best regional beers. Insiders say the tipples offered to her have actually been non-alcoholic. But the message is clear. “I am one of the people,” as she said herself.
It’s a message her advisers have been keen for her to hammer home as she faces one of the most challenging tests yet of her more than 10 years as chancellor. The extent to which Germans will buy the message when one in five of them go to the polls in three separate states remains to be seen.
Many are at worst mildly disgruntled, at best greatly angered by Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, which has seen well over 1.1 million refugees enter the country in the past year or more. Following campaigns that have been dominated by the refugee issue, Merkel is expected to be punished by those who say they have yet to be consulted on a decision that will define Germany’s future for decades to come.
“Super Sunday”, as it’s been dubbed, is the culmination of a dramatic seven months that started on a euphoric note with Germans welcoming refugees with open arms, teddy bears and bottles of water at Munich railway station in September, after Merkel signalled that Syrian refugees would be warmly received. But while tens of thousands of Germans joined in the effort to welcome them, resentment among others soon triggered arson attacks on refugee accommodation and fuelled the anti-refugee rallies of the protest movement Pegida.
The nadir of Merkel’s open-door policy was reached during New Year celebrations in Cologne, when hundreds of women were reported as having been sexually harassed and raped by men of largely north African and Arabic background. The repercussions were immense and pressure was put on Merkel to close German borders.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), whose support has eroded across the country as a direct result of the refugee crisis, is expected to take a bashing, struggling to stay in power in Saxony-Anhalt and failing to take back either Rhineland-Palatinate from the Social Democrats (SPD) or Baden-Württemberg from the Greens. The winners are likely to be the rightwing populists whose presence has shifted the tectonic plates of Germany’s political landscape.
Alternative für Deutschland, which used to ride on an anti-EU ticket but which in recent months has switched its focus to refugees, is expected to make considerable gains in all three states, but particularly in Saxony-Anhalt. In the former East German state, it is predicted to gain as much as 20% of the vote, up from around 5% just six months ago. It would be an extraordinary and historic gain for a party that did not exist a little more than three years ago and last year was on the verge of collapse.
The AfD’s 40-year-old leader, Frauke Petry, who did a chemistry degree at Reading University, has set her party the goal of entering the Bundestag in 2017 and the government in 2021. If it gains second place in Saxony-Anhalt ahead of the Social Democrats, as some pollsters predict it will, it would be a huge psychological and political blow to the established parties. It would shatter the CDU coalition with the SPD in the state, significant because it is a precise reflection of the make-up of the federal government, and signal that the AfD is capable of doing the same on the national level at the next general election.
But while the elections will be an important barometer of the political atmosphere, the many political observers around the world who are predicting the demise of Merkel if her party takes a drubbing are unlikely to be proved right. “Everyone [in the CDU] including opponents of Merkel know that there’s no one else so far with whom the party could secure better votes in the federal election than with Merkel,” said Robert Rossmann of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “That, rather than their love of the chancellor’s refugee policy, will be what keeps Merkel in power.”
But neither is Merkel’s prediction, in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung, that the AfD will run out of steam once the government is seen to have the refugee situation under control, necessarily very realistic.
“Even if the numbers of refugees decreases, the refugee question is likely to occupy Germany for a long time. The integration will take years and cost billions,” said Rossmann. “Not only that, but the AfD is an anti-system party whose success feeds off the deep-seated resentments to be found in an alarmingly large proportion of the population against the whole political establishment … that won’t disappear just because the refugee numbers go down.”
At an AfD rally in Magdeburg in the state of Saxony-Anhalt last week, that resentment was tangible. A man nearing retirement, who identified himself only as Björn, said he blamed Merkel for watering down German identity. “Just today I saw a group of schoolchildren. They were all dark-skinned, except for the little girl with blond-brown hair walking at the very back,” he said. “Now 54% of over-six-year-olds have an immigrant background. It’s really alarming.”
Another AfD supporter, 25-year-old Till, said he had been teaching refugees German but had quickly lost heart. “The disrespectful attitudes of the Muslim men towards the women was really disturbing,” he said. “I preferred to teach Russians and Brazilians instead. I worry that Merkel has opened the floodgates and Germany will never be the same again.”
A taxi driver from the city, who said for decades he had voted CDU and would now be voting AfD, said: “The problem is I don’t feel any of the issues being discussed have relevance for ordinary working people. Those who struggle on a wage of €1,200 (£930) a month which never goes up, while other costs of living do – what has the refugee crisis or the state of Europe got to do with us?”