Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel Faces Populist Challenge, Syrian Refugee Policy At Risk?

In America, the mainstream parties are facing tough challenges from populist candidates, but across the Atlantic in Germany, Angela Merkel is facing a similar bind. The chancellor’s party, the Christian Democrats, have been losing support, while anti-immigrant parties are on the rise. The trend is a backlash to Merkel’s open policies toward Syrian refugees.

According to the Chicago Tribune, three of Germany’s 16 states held elections. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lost to the Greens in Baden-Wuerttemberg, lost to the Social Democratic Party in Rhineland-Palatinate, and won in Saxony-Anhalt, but, because the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party took 24 percent, will struggle to create an effective coalition.

Michael Grosse-Broemer, CDU parliamentary whip, explained, “none of the established parties with seats in the Bundestag had a particularly good night.”

Right-wing groups organized political marches and demonstrations on the day before Sundays election. [Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images]
Right-wing groups organized political marches and demonstrations on the day before Sunday’s election. [Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images]

With the federal election just 18 months away, Germans are now asking what will Angela Merkel do?

Political risk expert Carsten Nickel explained to Yahoo! News, Angela Merkel herself has some breathing room.

“The result will increase the noise within the CDU and constrain the government’s options on migrants and Greece, but Merkel’s chancellorship is not at risk.”

Still, the chancellor’s immigration policies are in danger of deteriorating. She has already promised to stem some of the flow of Syrians coming to Germany, and is negotiating with Turkey for help. Less people are coming into Germany already, thanks to other European states taking in greater numbers.

The Syrian immigration policy has proven to be difficult for the politicians, largely due to the fears about women’s safety. The most infamous incident was New Years in Cologne. According to the New York Times, a mob of about 1,500 young men, at least some of which were refugees, sexually assaulted and robbed hundreds of people during the celebrations.

The police were overwhelmed. Police reports and testimony indicated that the police did not anticipate the “new realities” of Germany, according to the Times.

Women rally on January 9th at the Cologne Cathedral, which is next to next to Hauptbahnhof main railway where a flashmob of men sexually assaulted women trying to enjoy the New Years celebrations. [Photo by Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images]
Women rally on January 9th at the Cologne Cathedral, which is next to next to Hauptbahnhof main railway where a flashmob of men sexually assaulted women trying to enjoy the New Years celebrations. [Photo by Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images]

Still, Angela Merkel will not change the core of her immigration policy, which was a sentiment echoed by German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

“There is a clear position that we stand by: humanity and solidarity. We will not change our position now.”

That’s a very different message than that being offered by the AfD, which has slogans like “secure the borders” and “stop the asylum chaos.”

Regional members of Merkel’s party are also calling for change.

CDU’s leader in Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Haseloff, was not hesitant to point the finger at the Angela Merkel, telling ARD television “the issue that has brought the AfD into parliaments across Germany can’t be ignored on a federal level any more. We need solutions.”

Holger Schmieding, an analyst at Berenberg Bank, reaffirmed that its a bad sign for Merkel, saying “these results are a serious rebuke for Merkel and the most pronounced protest vote we’ve seen so far.”

Still, the results will allow the chancellor to direct the blame to regional party leaders, who have been criticizing the refugee policies.

Charlotte Knobloch, former head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, is particularly concerned, saying “if voters follow the call of right-wing populists and extremists to such an extent, it is a failure of the democratic parties.”

In the end, it’s not clear what the future of German policy will look like. The solutions Angela Merkel proposes in the next few months will be critical for both her party and Germany.

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

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