“A difficult day” for the party said German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the state election held last Sunday. The CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union) lost the majority in two out of three federal states, Baden – Wuttemberg and Rhineland- Palatinate. A remarkable result: although the CDU remains the main political force, we clearly see the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)party, led by Frauke Petry, gaining increasing support. Key issue: immigration policies.
In response to the Syrian and Middle Eastern refugee crisis, Chancellor Merkel has been promoting an open-door policy, according to which Germany grants asylum to refugees and migrants coming from war zones. In 2015, more than a million people crossed the German border. A “humanitarian” policy, which distances itself from the position taken by other European countries. For instance, Slovenia has opted for closing the borders, while Austria has imposed stricter controls at the borders and a ceiling of refugees to be accepted.
Very different the approach presented by the AfD, which stands for securing the borders. “Asylchaos beenden” – the party’s motto- clearly shows the concern for national internal stability. The right-wing party supports a conservative political line, aimed to protect the traditional Christian values. The constant influx of Muslim immigrants is perceived as a threat to these values: a xenophobic attitude, then, that seems to get more support among the German population.
The AfD, in fact, is gaining votes also outside the traditional far-right supporters. Many conservatives, usually closer to the positions of the CDU but disillusioned by the centrist policies promoted by Merkel, have given their preference to the far-right. The alternative offered by Petry’s populist party, indeed, seems to get closer to their needs and ideas.
We are seeing a strongly polarized electorate. On the one hand, those who has supported and continues to support the open policies promoted by Merkel, whose real fear is not the influx of refugees , but the closure of borders . Doing so would endanger the European Union’s fundamental principles, such as the free movement of persons, free trade and the single currency. On the other hand, the far-right xenophobic party bets on a more radical approach, which aims to defend the national integrity and security at the expense of community values, indeed, the freedom of movement.
Nothing new nor surprising. We have already seen the same process in France with the rise of Le Pen’s xenophobic far-right party and now in the US with Trump’s successes. It seems that in Western countries the intolerance towards permissive policies on refugees and foreigners is sharply growing. And the sense of insecurity due to ongoing threats and attacks carried out in various European capitals certainly does not facilitate an opener position.
In the background of this internal conflict there are also the negotiation leading by the Bundeskanzlerin within the EU with Turkey, in order to sign an agreement on migrants. Erdogan has recently requested an extra 3bn Euros (on top of the 3bn Euros already made available), while proposing an exchange mechanism according to which for every Syrian refugee readmitted in Turkey, the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey to other EU Member States. “Understandable” demands, according to Germany; different reaction from other European leaders, such as the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel that defines the agreement as a sort of blackmail.
However, neither the outcome of the election, nor the conflicting opinions within the EU have changed Merkel’s plan: no U-turn in the open-door policy, while the agreement with Turkey still remains the only possible way to solve the crisis.
Likely, there will be consequences both at national and European level. In Germany, the CDU is not only facilitating the growth of far-right parties, but it is endangering the internal stability of its own party. Horst Seehofer, leader of the CSU, sister party of the CDU in Bavaria, has heavily criticized Merkel’s decisions, saying that after similar electoral results the only acceptable response is a policy change. At European level, the distance between an EU-leading Germany and other Member States once again questions the credibility and stability of the institution as well as the effectiveness of any agreement achieved with Turkey. As there are many European countries to have interests at stake, an EU response must take into account these different needs. And if Merkel wants to maintain her leadership, she cannot close her eyes on other countries’ positions.