quarta-feira, 31 de agosto de 2016

Tipping point for the German far-right / Merkel admits mistakes made in Germany, EU with refugee crisis

Tipping point for the German far-right

Alternative for Germany vying for first place in regional election.

Janosch Delcker
8/31/16, 5:23 AM CET

SCHWERIN, Germany — The German political establishment’s worst nightmare could become reality this weekend when voters head to the polls for an election in the northeast: the far-right Alternative for Germany might, for the first time, become the most powerful party in a state.

To make matters worse, it could happen in Angela Merkel’s back yard.

The refugee crisis continues to dominate the political landscape across Germany, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the country’s most sparsely-populated state, and home to Angela Merkel’s constituency, is no exception. The AfD has used the crisis to woo disaffected voters and makes it very clear who it thinks is responsible for the country’s problems: Merkel.

“The refugee crisis has helped us, there’s little question about that,” Leif-Erik Holm, the AfD’s lead candidate in the regional election, said.

Holm’s party is polling at 21 percent, behind the Social Democrats (28 percent) and Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats (22 percent), but party officials are confident of a bounce on election day. It’s happened before: in March in Saxony-Anhalt the AfD was polling at 19 percent and won 24 percent. It finished second in that ballot and hopes to go one further this time.

Whatever happens, the AfD will almost certainly enter its ninth state parliament out of 16. Number 10 will likely follow two weeks later when voters go to the polls in Berlin, where the AfD is polling at 10 percent.

The changing face of German politics was on display when Merkel traveled to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in mid-August to meet with farmers, traditionally staunch supporters of her conservatives.

The chancellor was well prepared, telling farmers she would support their use of the weedkiller glyphosate, answering questions about security regulations, and describing in great detail how impressed she was by a combine harvester in front of the farm. The farmers weren’t angry, but they were concerned.

“I’m not just a farmer, I am also a worried citizen,” one man told Merkel, without explaining what he was worried about. “Please use your power so that our children will have a safe future.”

The chancellor is aware that, as her popularity has been decreasing, her new far-right rival is trying to capitalize on these hard-to-explain fears.

At a campaign event in Schwerin a day later, Björn Höcke, the leading light of the AfD’s right wing, spoke in the main square. The former teacher was asked to give his opinions on education, but went much further, being cheered for comments such as “I would like to live in a democratic state based on the rule of law. This is why I say ‘No’ to a multicultural society,” and “we can’t take this unbearable dictator of a chancellor anymore.”

The event ended with the crowd chanting “Merkel muss weg” (Merkel has to go).

The AfD doesn’t really do local issues. It’s happier to hammer home the anti-immigration message with slogans such as “Stop the asylum chaos.”

“National topics clearly dominate these state elections,“ said the AfD’s Holm. The former radio host is more softly-spoken than Höcke, but he leaves no doubt about his ultra-conservative stance.

“First, it was the Euro-Retterei, the [flawed] rescue of the euro, then it was the energy transformation with Merkel overtaking even the Green Party, and then — which marks the low point — the refugee crisis, which caused a fear among people about what else might come,” he said. “Those crises were managed poorly, and there was no conservative alternative [to the ruling parties.]”

Wounded big beasts

For decades, the two main parties — the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats — have fought it out to see who can lead a coalition government, both at state and national level. For a decade, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has been governed by a “grand coalition” of SPD and CDU.

The AfD claims there is no longer a difference between the two big beasts, thanks to Merkel’s “social democratization” of her party as she opened the doors to refugees from Syria and the wider Middle East.

“We basically replace the old CDU, because Ms. Merkel moved it too far to the left,” Holm said, echoing comments from the national party leadership.
A crowd at an AfD Campaign event in Schwerin, Germany, in mid-August. Two men are holding up a sign that reads “Lying press — USA Warmonger Nr. 1 — Ami, go home!” | Janosch Delcker

A crowd at an AfD Campaign event in Schwerin, Germany, in mid-August. Two men are holding up a sign that reads “Lying press — USA Warmonger Nr. 1 — Ami, go home!” | Janosch Delcker

“For ten years, there has been a potential for a right-wing populist party,” said Tim Bleis, who works for an advice center for victims of right-wing violence in Rostock, the largest city in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

The state has form in voting for the Right. At the last state elections, in 2011, the extreme-right NPD won 6 percent of the votes to remain in the state parliament, where it has been since 2006. The threshold is 6 percent.

However, the NPD, which openly expresses Neo-Nazi views, is stigmatized, and the other parties agreed on a policy called “Schweriner Weg,” essentially an agreement to ignore the party.

Back then, the AfD didn’t even exist.

The AfD has morphed into an ultraconservative, anti-immigrant party that appeals to those who harbor right-wing views.

It’s come a long way in a very short space of time. Founded in 2013 as a protest party against the largely German-funded bailouts for indebted eurozone countries, the AfD has morphed into an ultraconservative, anti-immigrant party that appeals to those who harbor right-wing views, Bleis said, but were repelled by the extreme nature of the NPD, as well as those wanting to rebel against the establishment.

At the AfD campaign event in Schwerin, there were protesters holding up signs against the “lying press” and the “warmonger United States.” One man was wearing a T-shirt that said “Großdeutschland,” which describes Germany’s pre-World-War-II borders.

An architect from Hamburg, who refused to give his name, said he was there to complain about what he called the “step-by-step Islamization” of Germany. One woman said she wanted to protest against “gender mainstreaming,” such as school children being taught about homosexuality.

The only common denominator seemed to be their disapproval of the current government’s refugee policy.

Worried about the rapid rise of the far-right, state officials from both major parties are trying to distance themselves from decisions taken by the national government in Berlin during the refugee crisis.

“To this day, Merkel pretends that Germany could take in everyone who’s persecuted. That’s disconnected from reality,” Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state premier Erwin Sellering of the SPD told Welt newspaper. Sellering declined to be interviewed for this article.

Lorenz Caffier, the candidate for Merkel’s conservatives, has repeatedly tried to paint his party as a stronghold of domestic security by pressing ahead with law-and-order policy ideas, such as a burqa ban.

It’s an uphill battle for both parties. The SPD won 35 percent of the vote in 2011 and is on course for 28 percent this time, and the CDU is polling at 22 percent, down from a historic low of 23 percent last time.
‘I have my doubts’

Out on the campaign trail, the big two are sticking to their guns.

“The difference from the CDU is obvious: the SPD speaks out for the man in the street,” Rainer Albrecht, a member of the SPD in the state parliament, told a passerby who asked him about the difference between the two parties as Albrecht handed out flyers by a shopping center on the outskirts of Rostock.

“I have my doubts,” the man replied.

Behind Albrecht, a handful of SPD volunteers folded flyers and handed out lollipops. Every one of them was unhappy at the leadership of Sigmar Gabriel, the economy minister and vice chancellor.

Earlier this year, Gabriel made a policy decision that enraged the local party faithful: he decided to raise taxes on petrol even though gas prices had fallen. This caused outrage in a predominantly rural state where many rely on their cars.

“Now people tell us, ‘They are raising taxes, and at the same time there’s enough money for all the refugees,” one of the SPD volunteers said.

It takes about five minutes to drive from where Albrecht was campaigning to the Rostock neighborhood of Groß Klein, which made headlines in early August when the city decided to move young asylum seekers out of an apartment after far-right extremists rioted in front of their house.

By mid-August, there were campaign posters for the AfD and the NPD on every street lamp in the main street that cuts through the neighborhood of Soviet-era apartment blocks.

“I’m not a Nazi, but I will vote for the AfD because something has to change,” said one Rostock woman, who refused to give her name.

If the AfD becomes the strongest party in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the other parties will almost certainly club together to block it. But the effect will still be huge.

“If we end up becoming the strongest party in the parliament, this will have an enormous effect [on the national stage],” the AfD’s Leif-Erik Holm said. “There also seems to be pressure now [on Merkel] to move further towards our direction — the question is if she wants to do that.”

Merkel admits mistakes made in Germany, EU with refugee crisis

By Erik Kirschbaum and Andrea Shalal | BERLIN
Tue Aug 30, 2016 2:56pm EDT

Germany and other European Union countries turned a blind eye to the refugee crisis building on its external borders for too long, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a German newspaper interview to be published on Wednesday.

Merkel, who has faced criticism in Germany for launching her policies of welcoming refugees a year ago, also told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Germany and the EU will need patience and endurance in dealing with migration of people to Europe.

"There are political issues that one can see coming but don't really register with people at that certain moment - and in Germany we ignored both the problem for too long and blocked out the need to find a pan-European solution," she said.

Merkel made the comments in an unusually self-critical analysis that appeared to be timed to the one-year anniversary on Wednesday of her now-famous statement "wir schaffen das", or "we can do this", when asked about the rising tide of refugees.

Her conservative party is expected to take a beating in two regional elections next month in part due to her refugee policies.

She said Germany, which has taken in most of the more than 1 million refugees from the Middle East and Asia who arrived in the EU in the past year, had let Spain and other EU border countries deal with the refugees on their own.

"Back then, we also rejected a proportional distribution of the refugees," she said.

Merkel said Germany had not supported models such as the Frontex European border agency that would have impinged on the sovereignty of the EU member states. "We said we would deal with the problem at our airports since we don't have any other external EU boundaries. But that doesn't work."

The three-term chancellor said refugees will be a long-term issue.

"We didn't embrace the problem in an appropriate way," she added. "That goes as well for protecting the external border of the Schengen area," she said, referring to the EU's passport-free and frontier-free zone.

Merkel said the EU needed to improve cooperation with and dramatically increase development aid to countries in Africa as well as Turkey and other troubled regions.
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Merkel said Germany had long been content to focus on other problems after years of welcoming refugees from the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. "I cannot deny that," she said.

She admonished German politicians to express themselves in moderate terms and not participate in the current ratcheting up of rhetoric about threats.

A number of Germans had always had a certain racism toward foreigners and were willing to commit violent acts for that cause, but that tendency had grown over the past year, she said.

The German leader, the daughter of pastor, also cautioned against equating all migrants with terrorists. "It's simply incorrect to say that terrorism came only with the refugees," she said. "It was already here in myriad forms and with the various potential attackers that we have been watching."

(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Alison Williams)

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