Samuel Sklarin, JHU ’20:
By the time this article comes out, the election in Germany will be decided. Each party’s seats in the Bundestag, the German Parliament, will be known and the next Chancellor will be agreed upon. Before the results come out, however, one thing is certain: Angela Merkel is the loser of this election. No, this does not mean she will lose her position as Chancellor. In fact, she will most likely win the election. However, even if she wins she will face increased pressure from the German populace. Germans are looking for change; the type of change that caused the British to vote to leave the European Union and elected Donald Trump into the American presidency. They will make sure that Merkel hears their voices.
The party that is most looking for change is the AfD or the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deüstchland) party. Their anti-immigration, nationalistic views have rallied around 12% of German voters at the polls behind their cause. If they can keep this up, they will become the third largest party in the Bundestag. On top of this, millions of voters are likely undecided. The Social Democratic party’s candidate, Martin Schulz, is Merkel’s biggest electoral competitor. Recently, Schulz has claimed that as many as 46% of the voting populace may be undecided. It is a good assumption that the AfD will receive some of these votes when it is all said and done.
The Germans have not been looking for any sort of change in their government in years. They have feared walking too close to the line of the National Socialist party, also known as the Nazis. In fact, the Bundestag has been largely dominated by Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic party, since 1949. On top of this, the public has generally seemed more concerned with economic than social issues.
However, this election is different. Far right-wing nationalists have risen from sixty years of silence and not in a quiet manner. The AfD have led many rallies and protests aggressively pushing their views into the minds of the German public. Their rhetoric is extremely socially conservative as they oppose gay marriage, deny climate change, etc. But their strongest rhetoric comes from their stance on immigration. They have strongly denounced Merkel’s open-door policy, which granted asylum to 445,000 migrants in 2016 alone. They believe that migrants have stolen their jobs and much of the federal money that would go towards their welfare. And, most importantly, the cause they are fighting for is not going away anytime soon.
How will Merkel handle this situation? Will it be business as usual or will it bring more life into German politics? In the past, Merkel has formed her and her party’s views based on those of the country as a whole. For example, when elected to lead the Christian Democratic Union in 2000, Merkel moved the party towards the center, away from its traditional, socially conservative, stances. This made the party, who held practically no power in the German political scene at the time, a more appealing vote for German citizens. Recently, Merkel has felt the pressure and begun inching towards the right. For example, she condemned full body veils for women as a security dilemma. Will Merkel continue to move her party towards the right to more fully encompass the German public and this new right-wing movement?
There is no good answer to this question for Merkel. If she moves back towards the right, she will anger many of her party’s loyal followers and scare off any voters whose opinions lean further to the left. If she decides to keep the policies of her party the same, more AfD supporters will come out of the woodworks to give their xenophobic fight a stronger backing. It is a lose-lose situation for her.
So, what should Merkel do? Well, she should sit back and relax. Get in a comfy chair and maybe have a glass of wine or two. David Cameron, Matteo Renzi, and Barack Obama have recently been ousted from power and everyone is counting on her as one of the last great liberal leaders in the world.
Enjoy the quiet before the storm Angela. Once you start your fourth term as the German Chancellor, the AfD will be breathing down your back, begging you for change.