sábado, 12 de março de 2016
Merkel’s refugee policy a political winner for rivals
Merkel’s refugee policy a political winner for rivals
The chancellor’s center-right allies face electoral setbacks in three critical German states this weekend.
By JANOSCH DELCKER 3/10/16, 5:30 AM CET
FREIBURG, Germany — In Germany’s economic heartland in the conservative southwest, Angela Merkel’s refugee policy is winning votes — for her political rival.
The 61-year-old chancellor’s dominance in national and EU politics is in sharp contrast to her poor track record in regional elections. On Sunday, Merkel wants to set that right when three German states go to the polls, but the results look likely to be the same as in the past — or even worse.
Merkel’s problem? In Baden-Württemberg, the largest of the three states, her Christian Democrats (CDU) are slipping in opinion polls while incumbent state premier Winfried Kretschmann of the Greens scores points by championing her plan to reduce the influx of refugees through European cooperation.
It was the CDU’s own man in Baden-Württemberg, Guido Wolf, who gave his Green rival an opening to capitalize on Merkel’s refugee policy. Wolf tried to distance himself from it for fear of losing supporters to the right wing.
“Merkel has taken action to reduce the number of refugees and to put the influx to Europe and to Germany in order,” said Kretschmann in his most recent burst of praise for Merkel, which has earned him the nickname “stalker” in CDU circles.
The conservatives demanded Merkel end her chummy relationship with the Green premier and she obliged, cancelling a joint appearance with Kretschmann in state capital Stuttgart, but holding a previously scheduled rally of her own in the university town of Freiburg.
“I want to be clear about this,” Merkel told a crowd of 800 people in a concert hall last week. “I am telling the citizens of Baden-Württemberg that everyone who wants to support my refugee policy should vote for the CDU on March 13, and nobody else.”
The loss of Baden-Württemberg in the 2011 election was a major upset in German politics.
The refugee crisis has turned Germany’s political scene upside down. In recent polls, the Greens pulled ahead of Merkel’s CDU by five points. If they maintain that lead, they could secure a majority in a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), the third largest party in the state, which is Merkel’s coalition partner in the federal government.
That would keep Kretschmann in power and deal a huge blow to Merkel, who has made it her priority to win back the longtime CDU stronghold of Baden-Württemberg. Germany’s third largest state is home to car manufacturers, making it one of the wealthiest regions in the EU.
The loss of Baden-Württemberg in the 2011 election was a major upset in German politics, putting the CDU in the opposition there for the first time in 58 years and turning Kretschmann into the first ever Green politician to govern a German state.
After the Fukushima accident, the anti-nuclear Greens had scored 24.2 percent and more than doubled their share of seats. Although they got 15 percentage points less than the CDU’s 39 percent, it was enough for the Greens to form a coalition with the SPD.
The CDU saw Kretschmann’s rise to power as an “accident” and trusted that the conservatives had enough support to ensure he was a one-term wonder.
It has not worked out that way.
In office, Kretschmann’s popularity steadily grew. He engaged with the public and capitalized on disenchantment among CDU supporters, who complained they had not been heard by “elitist” CDU leaders who had lost touch with the party’s grassroots.
Although perplexed at the Greens’ popularity, Merkel’s conservatives were polling at 40 percent in Baden-Württemberg in September, around the time that Merkel announced that Germany would welcome thousands of aslyum-seekers trapped in Budapest. However, early this week, Merkel’s CDU had plunged to 28.5 percent in opinion polls, with the Greens at 33.5 percent.
“My mother-in-law is 88-years-old, and she’s voted for the CDU all her life,” said Andreas Perrin, a 55-year-old member of the Greens. On Sunday, Perrin’s mother-in-law will also vote for the Greens, Perrin said at a campaign rally near the border with France. “She told me, ‘Kretschmann is someone I would like to keep seeing as premier.’”
Such defections could be part of a trend in Baden-Württemberg, largely driven by 67-year-old Kretschmann, who has been instrumental in the Greens’ movement closer to the political center that has made them more attractive to conservatives.
“It’s largely due to his performance during the last two years, and because the state is doing well,” said Ulrich Eith, a politics professor at the University of Freiburg. Unemployment in Baden-Württemberg, for example, is just 4 percent, versus the 6.6 percent national average.
The Greens are not the only threat to Merkel. CDU members opposed to her dogged insistence on welcoming refugees, even after more than 1 million migrants arrived in 2015, are also fleeing to the other side of the political spectrum. On March 13, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a far-right party, could increase the number of state assemblies in which it has seats to eight — meaning it would be represented in half of Germany’s federal states.
Rainer Leonhardt, a 61-year-old brewery worker, attended Merkel’s rally in Freiburg to express his outrage at the chancellor’s refugee policy which has pushed him into the arms of the AfD.
“I’ve always voted for CDU,” said Leonhardt outside the Freiburg concert hall. He was standing in a group of about 50 people, some of whom held banners saying ‘Stop Merkel.’ “Seeing the crime this woman is committing, and how she is ignoring the opinion of the people, makes us fear for democracy,” he said.
The outcome of Sunday’s elections in Baden-Württemberg and two other states, SPD-run Rhineland-Palatinate and CDU fiefdom Saxony-Anhalt, will do more than pass judgement on Merkel’s refugee policy: It will determine her ability to push through legislation on a federal level.
This has to do with the Bundesrat (federal assembly), which is the 69-seat upper house of parliament and is composed of representatives of the German states. Merkel needs its consent to pass several important laws including much-debated changes to inheritance tax, but her current coalition of conservatives and the SPD does not have a majority in the upper house.
If the CDU won Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, and keeps Saxony-Anhalt as predicted, she could ignore the Greens in the Bundesrat, where they have been her main opponents, in particular to the CDU’s attempts to project firmness in the refugee debate and declare Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria as safe countries of origin whose migrants can be sent home.
“We need a European solution, and you are stabbing her in the back” — SPD’s Malu Dreyer
Merkel could then speed up the return of migrants who entered Germany last year alongside refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq hoping to get asylum soon. That way, she can continue to offer refuge to people who flee war and prosecution while scoring points with her conservative critics by putting a stop to what’s called “economic” migration.
However, the chancellor knows she will have a tough time winning the two bigger states.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU’s Julia Klöckner saw her small lead over the SPD state premier Malu Dreyer slip away. Dreyer successfully pulled the “Kretschmann card” in a televised debate between the two female candidates by defending Merkel’s refugee policy against criticism from her own conservative candidate, Klöckner, who had tried to hatch an alternative plan for dealing with the refugees together with Wolf, the CDU candidate in Baden-Württemberg.
“The chancellor is simply right,” Dreyer said. “We need a European solution, and you are stabbing her in the back.”
While Klöckner and Dreyer remain neck and neck in opinion polls, Wolf’s chances of winning Baden-Württemberg are much lower. Attempting to prop up her candidate at the Freiburg rally, Merkel said the best way to ensure the Bundesrat played its role in ensuring the rapid return of rejected migrants was “to make sure Guido Wolf becomes state premier.”
The chancellor knows that 54-year-old Wolf is no match for the charismatic 67-year-old Kretschmann.
While the CDU and Greens poll about 30 percent when it comes to party preferences in the state, the premier scored 64 percent personal approval, versus 17 percent for Wolf. Underlining the Kretschmann cult, even 45 percent of CDU supporters said they would vote for the Green candidate if they could elect the premier directly.
Playing to the CDU’s strengths, Merkel’s conservatives have attempted to refocus debate in the prosperous state on economic policy, which according to a poll by public broadcaster SWR is the second-biggest issue for voters after refugees and security.
Last Monday, Merkel’s deputy minister for transport and digital infrastructure, Norbert Barthle, visited the town of Filderstadt on the outskirts of Stuttgart, the heart of Germany’s car industry. Speaking to mayors, lawmakers and business leaders — mostly men in suits, gathered in the meeting room of a haulage company — he emphasized the links between digital infrastructure and economic success, public-private partnerships, and the need for new super-long trucks on Germany’s roads.
“Without mobility, there is no prosperity,” said Barthle, not uttering the word “refugee” once in his 45-minute address.
Merkel hit the same business-friendly notes in her speech in Freiburg, emphasizing her reputation for cautious management of Europe’s biggest economy, saying it’s “crucial that we don’t only think about how to spend money, but also how to earn money.”