Why the German elections are not a victory for Germany, let alone for Europe

, by Eva Jovanova

Why the German elections are not a victory for Germany, let alone for Europe
Will Angela Merkel’s next cabinet abandon European values for the sake of approval rates? Photograph: Olaf Kosinsky/Skillshare.eu (CC BY-SA 3.0 DE)

If we take a glance at the numbers indicating how Germany voted on September 24, we might be tricked into thinking that Germany is still doing fine and that Merkel’s win is a sign that nothing can shake the placid German mind. However, if we look more closely, we notice that Merkel’s victory can barely be called ‘a victory’ as it is a rather Pyrrhic one.

The CDU/CSU coalition suffered its second worst election result since 1949, the popularity of the SPD, Merkel’s coalition partner in two of the three Merkel cabinets, reached a nadir, while the far-right AfD which couldn’t pass the 5% threshold in 2013 ended up as the third most successful party, winning 94 of the 690 seats in the German Bundestag. One of the most surprising aspects here is that these results take place at a time when unemployment in Germany has plummeted and the German GDP per capita is one of the highest in the EU.

Whose victory is it then?

The federal state where the CDU/CSU coalition obtained the most votes was Bavaria, CSU’s stronghold, with the party tallying around 38% of the votes. However, the policies of CSU, CDU’s sister party, cannot be considered in line with some of Mrs. Merkel’s policies. For instance, take CSU’s violation of the Schengen agreement when it reinforced border controls at the Austrian frontier. However, even with these mildly anti-immigrant measures, the AfD still won more than 5% in all Bavarian constituencies.

Moreover, let’s not leave German history out of this. Dresden, the city which was flattened to the ground at the very end of World War II and which is also the birthplace of the anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement, was almost equally eager to vote for Merkel’s CDU, as it was for the far-right parties. Whereas 24.5% of the voters in the first electoral district of Dresden cast their first vote for the CDU, more than 23% of the Dresdner casted their vote for ultra-right AfD and NPD parties. The results in the second constituency of Dresden are even more disappointing, with the AfD candidate for a direct mandate winning 0.2% more than the CDU candidate. Taking this into account, and taking into account the fact that Germany is a country which belabours the Holocaust into minutious detail throughout its entire formal education process, it looks like some Germans in the city which suffered the most fatal consequences of the WWII atrocities have become callous to the heinous images portrayed in their history books.

Also, one must not forget about the ultra-nationalistic NPD, which won more than 0.5% of the votes in the two constituencies in Dresden. A percentage which varies between 0.6 and 0.8 % might sound insignificant, but given that the NPD campaign rested on posters with the slogans ‘Hands off, Nafri (a racist expression for a person from North Africa). I’m not a wildling.” and that an NPD “politician” was sentenced to prison earlier this year for tattooing the text ‘To each his own’ next to a WWII labour camp on his back, it is highly inappropriate to overlook how almost 1% of the people are still keen to support a campaign which resounds the infamous German rhetoric from 1933. Moreover, some NPD politicians transferred into AfD, as the rhetoric of the AfD started to become more and more radical throughout the years.

A victory for Europe?

Whereas the 2014 European elections in Germany were mostly a win for the moderate parties, as the results were somewhat similar to the 2013 federal elections, Germany also managed to send the longtime neo-Nazi NPD leader Udo Voigt and another seven AfD politicians into the European Parliament. It might be too early now to make a prognosis of whether the European elections in 2019 will resemble these federal election results, but it is not too early to make a guess as to how a potential “Jamaica coalition” (CDU/CSU + FDP + Greens) might influence European politics.

First, since 2005, Merkel has been famous for conceding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to her coalition partner(s), with the exception of her first cabinet, when she conceded both the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance to her coalition partner, the SPD. If FDP (10.7%) end up in a coalition with Merkel, they will most likely aim for one of these two ministerial positions. If such concessions are made, the idea of a federal Europe, where international law is of crucial importance, is in peril.

Christian Lindner, the leader of the FDP, stated in August that Germany should accept Crimea as a part of Russia and should focus on the future of German-Russian relations, a statement that was sharply criticised by the leader of the Green Party as a ‘coalition with dictators’. If Lindner does get the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and such rhetoric continues, this might lead to an unstable government and to a German foreign policy which is not in line with European values.

Moreover, as Mrs. Merkel seemed prepared to seriously consider Emmanuel Macron’s plans for a common euro budget as well as a joint finance ministry for the Eurozone, Mr. Linder has been sceptical of this plan the whole time. On Sunday, during the so-called ‘Elefantenrunde’, the traditional TV debate after the election results are published, Lindner referred to the common European budget as a “red line”, saying that FDP does not want to finance “national consumption“in France, nor the aftermath of”Berlusconi’s failures" in Italy. Therefore, reforming the Eurozone might be hindered if Lindner sits in the ministerial position in the Ministry of Finance, a position which the FDP is more likely to gain than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as they were showing a dogged aspiration for the former throughout the campaign.

Second, the Elefantendebatte yesterday also showed that ‘Voll Muttivation’ (Mutti is the diminutive form for mother in German) was missing and that the ‘Mutti’ might become an evil stepmom to some people residing in Germany during her last term. While in 2016 CDU/CSU labeled Afghanistan, the second most common country of origin for asylum seekers in Germany, as a safe country and started carrying out deportations, during the debate on Sunday, Mrs. Merkel, with a rather vague statement, promised to return the voters she had lost to the AfD with her policies. Does this mean that Germany, the emblem of European solidarity in the last decade, will derogate from European values just to make sure that the CDU will not undergo a fiasco in 2021?

There remain many unanswered questions. However, the results of Sunday did not leave any room for celebration by either the Germans or the Europeans. We must stop pretending that Germany is doing just fine.

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