After state election: German chancellor Merkel faces division on immigration

Canadian media may be sensationalizing recent political events in Germany. “German anti-immigrant party beats Merkel’s party in her home district” and “German anti-refugee vote leaves Merkel in a political mess”, are two headlines recently published on CBC’s website demonstrating how media reacted to last week’s state election in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, located in Germany’s northeastern corner.

Since opening the doors for more than a million refugees one year ago, pressure on chancellor Merkel is increasing and voices against her refugee policy are being raised. “The lady may not be for turning, but her country may be turning against her”, stated CBC reporter Don Murray. But what exactly happened at the state election last week? How bad is the situation for Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU)?

First, to make things a bit more clear, let’s take a closer look at the federated state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania: Being part of the German Democratic Republic until the reunification in 1990, it is home to 1.6 million inhabitants, which makes it the third smallest state of Germany. It is also where Angela Merkel’s own electoral district as a member of the German Bundestag is located, reason enough for CBC to call it her “home turf”. However, the recent state election is not related to the Bundestag, Germany’s overall constitutional and legislative body. Instead, it is part of a new regional parliament (Landtag) for one of the sixteen German states.

German Chancellor

German Chancellor Angela Merkel / Bloomberg

That’s why calling Mecklenburg-West Pomerania Merkel’s “home turf” is misleading in this case. The outgoing government of the state we are talking about was not even led by Merkel’s CDU, but by the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The last time Merkel’s party actually won an election in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania was in 1994, only a couple of years after the German reunification. Compared to the last election in 2011, the Christian Democratic Union lost four per cent of votes, a less significant loss than for two of the other big parties, the Social Democratic Party, who lost five per cent, and The Left, who lost slightly over five. So why is the media making a big deal of the election result?

The Alternative for Germany (AfD), is a right-wing populist party that was founded only three years ago to oppose the country’s established political powers. As a first-time participant in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania’s state election, they won 20.8 per cent of votes, leaving them second in between the Social Democrats, with  30.6 per cent, and Merkel’s CDU, with  19. In its manifesto, the AfD describes itself as a “defender of German cultural identity”, rejecting multiculturalism as a “threat to social peace and the survival of the nation as a cultural unity”. One of its major claims is that “Islam does not belong to Germany”, which makes the party appear to stand close to the anti-Islam, far-right political movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West).

Many people in Germany do not agree with how Merkel and her government are handling the flood of refugees entering the country during the Syrian refugee crisis. However, in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, only 3.7 per cent of the population are actually foreigners, compared to 8.9 per cent in all of Germany. How does that suit the results of the recent election? Numbers provided by the German federal bureau of statistics show that the proportion of foreigners is actually significantly higher in the West of Germany, whereas recent state elections have made clear that anti-immigrant parties such as the AfD and the ultra-nationalist NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany) are especially strong in the eastern states, where the proportion of foreigners is much lower.

Those states in the East, known to be in a weaker economic position than the rest of the country, previously belonged to the German Democratic Republic, which suggests that 27 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany may still be divided.

It is not certain if Angela Merkel herself will be leading efforts to bring the country together. She has not yet announced plans to run for a fourth term as chancellor. Regardless, answers will be provided at the German federal elections in October of next year, and the Alternative for Germany party  will be one to watch out for.


Pascal Michelberger, Contributor 

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