Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Complicated Legacy

10 March 2021 Dr Qaisar Rashid, FDI Associate

In the elections to be held in September this year, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to increase its electoral-winning percentage far beyond the previously achieved 12 per cent by exploiting the abandoned legacy of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Background

On 3 March 2021, Thomas Haldenwang, Head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s intelligence bureau for domestic issues, announced that Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right political party, was a threat to both democracy and freedom in Germany and hence a suspected extremist group. Further, he said, the BfV planned to place party officials other than AfD parliamentarians under surveillance, observe their meetings, read their e-mails and listen in on their phone calls. Unfortunately, that could not happen because a German court ruled against those activities.

Comment

Founded on 6 February 2013 in Berlin, the AfD began as a conservative, anti-Euro movement but, in 2014, turned anti-foreigners, especially anti-Muslims, and now anti-democracy. The BfV thinks that, since 2019, the AfD has been sliding further into the right-wing extremist fringe. Germany’s next general election is almost six months away.

On 11 October 2014, when the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) was formed, the AfD came to its support. The AfD’s head, Bernd Lucke, publicly supported PEGIDA. This was the point at which the AfD witnessed a sharp rise in its popularity. For instance, in Dresden, where the participants in PEGIDA’s demonstrations (the so-called neo-Nazis in pinstripes) numbered around 5,000 in October 2014, owing to the support of the AfD, that number increased to 15,000 defying severe cold in December 2014.

Workers of the AfD enthusiastically participated in the demonstrations staged by the PEGIDA and showed solidarity with it at the occasion of any police crackdown. Owing to the AfD support, PEGIDA’s support base swelled quickly. Interestingly, the head of the AfD is a former member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which forms the ruling coalition with the Christian Social Union (CSU). In 2005, Merkel’s rise to the office of Chancellor was attributed to her right-wing sloganeering that helped her to oust centre-left Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s party, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) from power. Herr Schröder had advocated for the Third Way: technological innovation, competitive enterprise and education. After assuming power, however, Ms Merkel turned moderate. The about-face annoyed her right-wing followers. Consequently, resentment in the rank and file of the CDU-CSU grew.

To halt the wave of antipathy towards her policies, Chancellor Merkel decided to pander to the needs of the right-wing members of her party. In October 2010, while addressing the youth wing of the CDU-CSU union at Potsdam, in Brandenburg state, she stated unequivocally that multiculturalism had failed in Germany (‘Multi kulti ist gescheitert’). A few moments later, she reiterated her stance by saying that multiculturalism had failed in absolute terms, leaving no space for other than German culture to thrive in Germany. She was, perhaps, late in exploiting the right-wing conservative leanings of party dissidents because, in April 2013, along with his thousands of followers, Bernd Lucke forfeited his 33-year long allegiance to the CDU and founded the AfD to reify the right-wing conservative dream that had helped Merkel woo the voters to elect her to the office of the Chancellor.

In the general election that was held in September 2013, the AfD secured about four per cent of the vote. Although it did not meet the five per cent limit required for a party to enter the Bundestag (the German Parliament), the AfD focussed on the vote bank of the CDU-CSU coalition, which worried Merkel; she decided to counter the AfD. In January 2015, Chancellor Merkel addressed party workers in Hamburg and made right-wing utterances such as ‘when the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago [in 1989], many thought we had done it, but we have just seen again that there are many who do not hold the same values as us.’ Once again, she insinuated anti-multiculturalism. Her efforts were to no avail; in the general election held in September 2017, the AfD secured about 12 per cent of the vote, with 89 out of 709 seats, and sat on the opposition benches as the third-largest party in the Bundestag and the largest in the opposition. It was the first time in post-war Germany that a far-right political party had won voters’ confidence and seats in the Bundestag.

The major reason for the rise of the AfD is not to promote any economic agenda but to oppose multiculturalism in Germany. The AfD stands against foreigners, especially people from the Indian sub-continent. That is the same sentiment that Angela Merkel once exploited to ascend to the office of Chancellor, i.e., to conserve German competitiveness (Deutsche Wettbewerbsfähigkeit) and keep non-Germans out of Germany, a modern variation of the principle of Blut und Boden (“blood and soil”).

Whereas Chancellor Merkel projected herself as being tolerant towards multiculturalism publicly, she supported anti-multiculturalism in her party meetings. Her doublespeak confused both the Germans and non-Germans residing in Germany. The rise of the AfD was a reaction to her policy of tolerating multiculturalism publicly. She has decided not to contest the forthcoming general election. She wanted the CDU-CSU to nominate some other party member to contest the elections. Now, the room is open for the AfD to assert itself, which is why its activities have increased manifold and been noticed by the German intelligence machinery, which appears to ignore the fact that the AfD leaders are actually following Chancellor Merkel’s strategy.

The overall situation indicates that, since the departure of Gerhard Schröder’s SPD in 2005, Germany has slid towards right-wing racial conservatism. In 2017, the German electorate upheld far-right wing racial extremism. It is expected that, in the elections in September this year, the AfD is bound to increase its electoral-winning percentage far beyond the previously achieved 12 per cent by exploiting the abandoned legacy of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel.

About the Author

Dr Qaisar Rashid is a freelance writer who has contributed weekly columns to Pakistani English-language dailies since 2004. He writes on local, regional and international political and social issues and the current affairs of Pakistan.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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