September 19, 2017
German populist vote - as seen from the outside
For many international observers Germany is the exception: In times of Donald Trump, Brexit and Emmanuel Macron Germans seem to live on another continent of social peace and political harmony. There is nothing of the desire for renewal witnessed during the French elections, or the desire to distinguish themselves shown by the Brexit vote. There is no major populist insurgence. Controversial subjects of our times like terrorism, refugees, immigration, military engagement, or nationalism, are avoided, observes Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation.
But this peace is superficial, notes Philippe Rocard in Le Monde. There are about 20-30% frustrated voters in Germany, angry about Angela Merkel and her motto "Wir schaffen das" (we can make it) in immigration policy, or her handouts to bailout countries during the eurozone crisis. The three parties that capture the rising protest are the AFD, Die Linke and even the FDP with its radicalised discourse against Greece.
The rise of the AfD, which looks like it could become the third strongest party only four years after its foundation, would be a turning point in postwar German history, notes the WSJ. Never since the 1950s has a far-right party cleared the 5% hurdle. According to the recent polls, the AfD could get as many as 89 out of 703 seats. With its xenophobic and nationalistic rhetoric the party breaks taboos in a country that has resisted right-wing populism for decades. To be fair, these numbers are still small compared to Austria where the Freedom party is polling 25%, or France where Marine Le Pen received 34% in the presidential run-off. But for Germany it is a major shift.
Angela Merkel, meanwhile, continues to run as the guarantor of stability, nourishing the image that she is the only one who can take on men like Donald Trump or Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And, like in the past two elections, she avoids controversial subjects that could stir up emotions ahead of the vote. If she wins, she may well be tempted to become even more cautious, so Rocard. This depends on the AfD’s success and what lessons Merkel draws from the other EU countries’ experiences. In this case, it would become even harder to agree a meaningful EU reform agenda.