The Corner

National Security & Defense

Those other elections: Merkel’s Not So Super Sunday

Well, it looks as if the populist-right AfD did even better than expected in regional elections in Germany today.

The Financial Times:

According to exit polls, the AfD won 23 per cent of the vote in the depressed eastern region of Saxony-Anhalt, where the radical right has long been active. But it also exceeded expectations in wealthy western Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, scoring 12.5 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively. The AfD mobilised droves of former non-voters, boosting voter participation as high as 72 per cent, far above normal levels for regional polls — a sign of how deeply the refugee crisis is shaking Germany.

The best guess yesterday was that the AfD were closing in on double digits in the two western regions, and would take 18-19% in Saxony.

But—elections are complicated—look at what happened to the SPD, the left-of-center part of Merkel’s governing coalition:

The social democrats, Ms Merkel’s coalition partners, who have strongly backed her refugee policies, fared even worse, being driven into fourth place behind the AfD, in Baden-Württemberg and Sachsen-Anhalt. The SPD salvaged a little battered pride in Rhineland-Palatinate, where it narrowly retained power, beating off a CDU challenge led by Julia Klöckner, a rising political star.

It’s worth noting that the rise of Europe’s new populist right can pose a challenge to parties of ‘establishment’ left as well as ‘establishment’ right. And the establishment left’s attempts to go some way to respond to the immigration concerns of many of their traditional supporters can push other party loyalists away. Make of it what you will, but the (pro-immigration) Greens came top in Baden-Württemberg, a former Merkel stronghold,  with nearly one-third of the vote, building on the platform that they had built in that state after the Fukushima disaster.  In 2006 Merkel’s CDU took home some 44 percent of the vote there. Now that’s down to a little over a quarter.

As I mentioned yesterday, Merkel remains unassailable for now. She has no obvious challengers within her own party, and there is no workable constellation of parties that could form a coalition to replace her own.

What results like these do do, however, is chip away at the aura of invincibility that has surrounded Merkel. That matters at a time when she is trying to persuade Europeans to agree to an approach to immigration that many of them reject.

With an EU immigration summit approaching, Der Spiegel has a good and not (entirely) unsympathetic article on how matters stand between the “indispensable European” (as The Economist describes Merkel) and her European partners.

Here are some extracts:

 The chancellor has played a variety of roles in Brussels throughout her career. She began as a clumsy novice, but as a result of the euro crisis she ultimately became the most powerful leader in Europe. Now, however, she has isolated Germany in the European Union to a greater degree than any chancellor before her….

[T]he fissure runs through the entire continent. Germany and France are estranged, Eastern European member states have joined Austria in an anti-Merkel alliance and European Council President Tusk has defected to the enemy camp…

[W]hat Merkel’s people describe as rectitude, the rest of Europe sees as an attempt to spread the costs of her noble-minded blunder across the entire European Union. The fences that have now been built do not just prevent refugees from moving through the Continent — they’re also symbolic of resistance to German presumption…

Nothing reveals Merkel’s hypocrisy more than her handling of the Balkan Route closure. With only a few hundred migrants a day now reaching Germany, Merkel is perhaps the greatest profiteer of the border closures. But it is the result of policies imposed by her political adversaries. Not only that, but these policies were originally supposed to receive the European stamp of approval at Monday’s summit. For the summit’s closing document, Tusk proposed the following statement in reference to the Balkan Route: “This route is now closed.” The sentence is a statement of fact, but Merkel nevertheless refused to sign on. Doing so would have been a public admission of failure.

For narcissists, it’s always about them…

Der Spiegel, again:

Many of Germany’s EU partners would love to see Merkel fail. They see the border closures along the Balkan Route as tangible policy results and Merkel’s diplomatic dance with Turkey as delusional. “We can’t trust Turkey,” says a source close to Hollande…

The price for her policies is not just the rise of a new right-wing populist party in Germany and a German society that is more divided and disgruntled than it has been in years. She also created a Europe that is no longer united.

Can a Nobel Peace Prize be far away? 

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