What the State Elections Mean for Merkel

Sunday’s elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern were a resounding defeat for Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) — in her home state no less. Coalition partners Social Democratic Party (SPD) topped the election results, whilst the far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) beat the CDU into second place. Quite the embarrassing finish for a Chancellor who has been in power since 2005 and is clearly the most powerful leader in Europe.

All the while, Merkel is deciding whether she will stand for a fourth term in next year’s Federal elections. Analysts are in near agreement that she will indeed stand for election for Chancellor and that the CDU/SPD grand coalition will continue to govern in the Bundestag, but on the state-level, the CDU will be challenged and potentially weakened. Berlin votes in two weeks-time, and even though the CDU does not constitute the majority in the governing SPD/CDU coalition in the Berlin House of Representatives, losing out to Die Linke or AfD could force them into opposition.

Why so much hostility towards the CDU? Even though voters trust Merkel and her party with the economy in overwhelming numbers, the Chancellor’s policy of allowing upwards of a million refugees into the country has awoken the anti-immigrant far-right. The AfD used the refugee issue to drum up their own support prior to last Sunday’s vote, even though Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, in northeastern Germany, has only taken in 27,000 refugees.

The Chancellor, on Wednesday, delivered a speech to the Bundestag, where she defended her government’s record on reducing the influx of refugees and speeding up the repatriation of people who have been denied asylum.

“We’ve come up with regulations to steer this situation, to reestablish order, and reduced the number of refugees,” she said.


The Chancellor, who is under more pressure than ever in her nearly 11 years in office, used an unusually combative tone in her speech, challenging MPs to embrace “change for the better” and winning applause from conservative benches with the emotive words: “Germany will remain Germany, with everything we value and hold dear to us.”

Ms Merkel issued a rallying cry to her CDU/CSU partners, as well as her SPD coalition colleagues, to do everything possible to challenge the AfD wherever they campaign and counter their rhetoric in speeches, in the press, and in social media.

However, despite all the pressure she’s facing, it is widely-believed that Europe’s most powerful woman will weather the storm. She has been typically patient and measured and has not overreacted when posed with questions about her future in the Chancellory.

Unfortunately for Ms Merkel, all elections, state and Federal, have become referendums on her government’s refugee policy. Questions that typically win or lose elections — the economy, regional development of the former East Germany, the welfare state — have disappeared from the minds of the German people. Voters have paid no attention to the fact that the country’s treasury — managed and filled by Wolfgang Schäuble and his disciplined approach to economics — and Germans’ wallets, are fuller than they have been in a very long time.

Nor does it seem to matter that the number of refugee arrivals has dropped dramatically and that the government’s handling of the situation has improved significantly. Instead, votes are cast based on a decision that has been attributed to the chancellor: the decision not to close Germany’s borders in the face of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and parts of North Africa. Her thinking has been that abandoning Schengen will irrevocably alter the fate of the European Union. She was looking out for the future of Europe, not just Germany and especially not just for her own career.

Some will argue that her decision to allow refugees into Germany was the act of a humanitarian. Others will say that too many were given asylum and German society cannot handle the influx of 1,2 million people from parts of the world susceptible to radicalisation and who are unable — or unwilling — to integrate into German culture. History will decide whether Chancellor Merkel’s decision was wise or misguided, but for now, attention must turn to today’s politics. Will she be Chancellor after the elections next year, or will she be forced out by her CSU partners (the CDU’s Bavarian sister-party in the Bundestag) and her more right-leaning colleagues? Will the SPD refuse to enter into another grand coalition with her at the helm (much like the situation in Spain) or will the AfD become a major power broker in Berlin? Only time will tell, but given her tenacity and tendency towards political survival, one can be fairly certain that we haven’t seen the last of Angela Merkel.

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