German elections see “nationalist” breakthrough – and Europe is “shocked” once again

The German federal elections on 24 September 2017 confirm ESC’s long-standing analysis of Western politics that:

  • western politicians are out of touch, arrogant and uninterested in the views of the electorate
  • the West’s commentariat is equally out of touch, arrogant and uninterested in the views of the electorate
  • millions of Western voters are still furious

The election set a number of dubious records.

(All figures on the election results quoted below are based on forecasts made soon after polling closed at 18:00 German time, but in Germany these invariably differ little from the final results).

As expected, Chancellor Angela Merkel “won” the election, with her party the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and its sister party the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) emerging as the victors.

However, the CDU/CSU garnered just 33% of the vote, its worst result in a German federal election since 1949 and down considerably from the 41.5% it secured at the last election in 2013.

The Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) garnered just 39.1% of the vote, its worst result in a German federal election since 1949 and a drop of over 10 percentage points from the 49.3% it achieved in 2013.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) had been the junior party in the governing coalition with Merkel’s CDU from 2013 to 2017.

But it garnered just 20% of the vote, its worst result in a German federal election since 1949 and its fourth defeat in a row since 2005.

The Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, the environmental party, was the third largest party in the Bundestag, the German parliament’s lower house, but was pushed into fourth place.

The four biggest parties in the German Bundestag thus suffered considerable losses, in some cases recording their worst ever results, leading to expressions of shock and surprise.

The third-biggest party in the Bundestag now is the right-wing, anti-immigration and Eurosceptic party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which gained 13.2% of the votes – a result which “shocked” Germany’s long-established parties and not a few journalists, all of whom seemed to be unaware of voter fury, much of which stems from mass legal and illegal immigration.

This is extraordinary. After Brexit, Trump, Geert Wilders and other right-wing successes in Europe such as Marine Le Pen’s strong showing in the first round of France’s presidential election in April 2017, Western politicians, observers and journalists are now shocked at the shift to the right in Germany. This shock is all the more extraordinary because opinion polls in the run-up to the election gave the AfD between 10% and 13% of the vote.

The AfD’s success means that for the first time in Germany’s recent history, a right-wing party has outflanked the CDU and even the CSU to the right of the political spectrum.

As we have pointed out previously, Merkel and the CDU/CSU were fortunate indeed that these elections were not due in late 2015 or in 2016.

The AfD did particularly well in what are called the 5 neue Bundesländer – the “new” federal states from the German Democratic Republic which joined the Federal Republic on the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and German reunification.

As in the rest of Eastern Europe, they see society in Western Europe and the USA as highly dysfunctional and do not want to import the same values, hence their resistance to immigration.

As a result, the AfD is now the second-biggest party in Eastern Germany, gaining 21.5% or even 22.8% of the vote in the region according to two different opinion polls.

The AfD itself, however, is split between pragmatic politicians willing to compromise with other parties and right-wing nationalists who are expected to use the platform offered by the Bundestag to announce principled opposition based on outright racist slogans.

But as we have continually noted, the unity and coherence of many Western countries have been shattered by the lousy economy and mass immigration, compounded by the feeling on the part of millions of voters that they are being ignored by politicians intent on pushing through policies they do not want – a point made on German TV on election night by Sahra Wagenknecht, a member of the Bundestag and the populist party Die Linke (the Left Party).

Germany also proves ESC’s long-standing contention that much voter rage is focused on culture rather than the economy.

Germany, after all, has one of the best economies in the world, and yet its governing coalition of the last four years has effectively been voted out.

Countless Western politicians and “analysts” who point to the economic advantages of globalisation still fail to understand this vital issue.

Germany’s other “established” parties, however, are still in denial, claiming for themselves the moniker, status, prestige and moral superiority of being the “democratic parties” and thus denying democratic legitimacy to a party which will now have 98 seats in the Bundestag. On this view, it is the electorate which is out of step, not the politicians.

Germany’s fractional nature nowadays is reflected not only in the AfD’s entry into the Bundestag for the first time, but also in the fact that 6 parties will be represented in the Bundestag for the first time since 1953.

Complacent European Union bureaucrats and European politicians were delighted by the success of Emmanuel Macron against Marine Le Pen, but the German federal election results show that contrary to their hopes and beliefs, right-wing “populism” on the continent is by no means over.

The AfD gained 13.2% of the vote – about the same as the 13% gained by Geert Wilders’s PVV party in The Netherlands during the national elections in March 2017, when it became the second-biggest party in the Dutch parliament.

Quo vadis?

Martin Schulz, the SPD’s leader, gave a good analysis during the traditional televised Berlin Round with the party chairman and leaders of the six parties now represented in the Bundestag.

Schulz said very clearly that the voters had rejected the previous ruling coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD and heavily criticised Angela Merkel for bringing the situation about by her policy of “non-politics” and avoiding the issues. He also accused her of being an “ideological vacuum cleaner” for hovering up the ideas of other parties.

This is, indeed, part of the problem. The CDU has moved to the centre, leaving right wingers with no political home, although the SPD and other parties also lost voters to the AfD.

The SPD, he said, would therefore withdraw from the governing coalition, even though in conjunction with CDU/CSU it could form a comfortable majority and even as the junior partner would have several important ministerial portfolios. Schulz said that the SPD would not leave the role of parliamentary opposition to the AfD.

If the SPD sticks to this pledge, Germany will join the ranks of other Western countries with shaky governments.

Schulz forecast that in her desperation to remain Chancellor, Merkel would make a lot of concessions to the two likeliest partners to come into the government, but rightly pointed out that this so-called Jamaica coalition could result in paralysis since the junior parties are far apart on crucial ideological issues.

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The Jamaican flag

A Jamaica coalition, named after the parties’ colours, would consist of the black of Merkel’s own CDU/CSU, yellow for the liberal, market-oriented Free Democrats and green for Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, an environmental party. Clashes between the FDP and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen seem pre-programmed.

But that’s not all. The CDU’s own sister party, the CSU in Bavaria, was also very publicly at odds with Merkel’s open-door immigration policy for months before a rapprochement.  In 2018, the CSU faces a Landtag election, where it runs the risk of being outflanked by the AfD.

A Jamaica coalition will thus consist of four parties, not three. Even if a deal can be reached, it remains to be seen if such a coalition can be held together. A pragmatic approach is obviously the best solution, but runs the high risk of alienating both their voters and their party members.

As to the other two parties, the AfD and Die Linke, the CDU/CSU says it will refuse to talk to such “undemocratic” parties at all.

And the SPD? Martin Schulz may have given a solid analysis on election night, but after giving up his position as President of the European Parliament to challenge Angela Merkel for the German Chancellorship, his ratings slumped after an early bump in the polls. His boring bureaucratic performance during the one TV duel he had with Merkel only enhanced his reputation as a poor politician.

As with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats in the United States, the candidate was a disaster and possibly unelectable from the start, but Schulz intends to stay on as party leader. His forecast of the impending disaster of the coalition negotiations and subsequent government is probably correct, but his refusal even to discuss continuing the governing coalition came under heavy criticism immediately for putting the interests of his party above those of the country.

And yet, in the coalition with the CDU/CSU, the SPD managed to get many of its policies regarding social equality and justice. Its catastrophic result shows that these policies, however, are no longer enough and that the party has even become a victim of its own success. Schulz is probably right that the SPD’s need for renewal is best done in opposition, not in government.

Contributing to the catastrophe, however, was the SDP’s refugee policy. It agreed with Merkel’s initial approach, but when the Chancellor realised the policy was highly unpopular and switched tack, the SPD insisted on continuing the former line and was against tighter internal security measures – a standard mistake of leftist parties across the West which has put them at odds with large parts of the electorate.

The Price

Merkel has paid a heavy price for her rash and emotional approach to the refugee problem in 2015.

Many accuse her of flouting international law on refugees, according to which the first country refugees reach is to provide asylum – they are not allowed to travel on to their preferred destination. Most refugees should therefore have remained in Turkey and never got anywhere near the European Union. The AfD says it intends to initiate a parliamentary inquiry into Merkel’s policy.

She assumed that other European countries would share the burden of taking in refugees, but did not consult them beforehand. This was a major policy error which in part stemmed from Berlin’s failure to understand how much political capital it had lost by its policies during the financial crisis, which many other countries regard as being caused by German over-lending in the first place and therefore deeply resent Germany’s insistence on austerity in Europe’s southern periphery, especially Greece. Nor do East Europeans share the guilt feelings of West Europeans regarding the Holocaust or European imperialism and colonialism which, they argue, lie behind the EU’s immigration policy.

She assumed that Germans would accept the refugees.

She assumed that the refugees could be integrated both economically and socially – despite expert advice to the contrary from German economists, the Confederation of German Industry, the German security and intelligence community and Bassam Tibi, Germany’s leading expert on Islamism and Syria – Tibi is well known in Germany as a public intellectual and is from Syria.

In short, Merkel has split Germany, pushed the country to the right, changed Europe and dealt a huge blow to both democracy and the European Union.

And not unlike Theresa May in the United Kingdom, she has gravely weakened her own party and may have delivered a German government incapable of governing.

This is the last thing Germany and Europe need given huge challenges such as immigration, industrial policy as the world switches to electric cars, Germany’s diesel scandal threatens the country’s reputation and industrial and export base, Germany’s under-investment in infrastructure and its lagging Internet and IT sector.

And while Germany’s economy is very healthy, increasing numbers of people are struggling after rent, tax, health insurance and pension and social security contributions leave little disposable income, including for the basics.

And yet, discussion about the huge costs of the refugee policy are virtually taboo at a time when there are insufficient kindergartens and the universities are underfunded.

A study by Leipzig University showed that most of the German media were cheerleaders for Merkel’s policy, but did little to explain the policy’s ins and outs and the case against immigration.

Estimates of the cost range from EUR 30-55 million per annum for the federal govenrment, the German states (Länder) and the communities. The federal government alone intends to spend EUR 93.6 billion between 2016 and 2020.

But even Development Minister Gerd Müller (CSU) says the money would be better invested in the crisis countries.

Every refugee will on balance cost EUR 450,000 over his lifetime, which in the event of two million arrivals by 2018 could mount up to a total cost EUR 900 billion.

That is likely a minimum figure. In contrast to the political and media hype about the economic contribution of refugees, 59% have no school leaving certificate and many are illiterate. Only 13% are currently employed, mostly as interns, trainees, auxiliary staff and temps.

But in 2017 alone, the federal transport ministry’s budget is only EUR 27.91 billion, Education & Research EUR 17.65 and Families, Women, Senior Citizens & Youth just EUR 9.52.billion.

Infection rates of dangerous diseases such as TB and AIDS have shot up due to the refugee influx.

Millions of Germans are furious that they have suffered under a policy of austerity which was suddenly abandoned to fund the refugee crisis and cannot understand why Merkel initiated an open-door policy after saying in previous years that the multi-cultural society had failed.

The advantages of Merkel’s policy are hard to perceive. Now, she wants to win back the voters she has lost due to her own policies.

So much for the much-vaunted new leader of the free world hoped for by Trump’s critics.

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