(William Moloney, Denver) The seismic implications of the German Elections are already rippling all across the European continent. The central message is that the volatile issue of Immigration, which establishment politicians everywhere had hoped to contain, is not receding but instead is a growing force with the potential to reshape governments throughout the West. Perhaps the most striking phenomenon is the widening gulf between voters and their elected officials in regard to immigration.
Until the German vote it seemed that the anti-immigration forces had been decisively checked by elections in Holland and France. Furthermore Angela Merkel, the European Union’s most powerful politician and the leader most closely associated with the opening of borders was thought to be cruising toward an election victory that would put a final stamp of approval on her approach to immigration.
While Merkel will certainly continue as German Chancellor the elections have made her grip on power and capacity to govern as tenuous as that of Theresa May, another leader blindsided by her country’s voters.
The starkest result is that the German people have resoundingly rejected Merkel’s policies on immigration. Exit polls conducted by ARD Public Television showed that 57% of voters were concerned about the “rising influence of Islam”, 71% wanted “strict limits on refugee acceptance”, and 90% wanted “rejected asylum seekers deported faster”.
Commenting on the ARD results pollster Hermann Binkert of Insa-Consulere said, “If you have these kind of results, they’re not just coming from fringe groups. These are people at the center of society”.
Interestingly the world’s media has paid relatively little attention to these poll numbers, which are the real story, but instead absolutely fixated on the party which finished third, Alternative for Germany (AfD). Drawing just 13% of the electorate behind the 33% of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and the 21% of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) the AfD has set off alarm bells across the Continent.
Founded in 2012 by a “wonkish” group of prominent economists, business people, and journalists (over half held advanced degrees) the AfD began as a Center-Right Conservative Party of the middle class that opposed further European integration, the Euro currency, bailouts for Greece, and increased immigration.
These policies were of course anathema to Merkel and her allies who began a conscious campaign of demonization of AfD and an outright refusal to allow their participation in government even though the party by 2015 had won seats in 13 of Germany’s 16 federal state legislatures.
Now that AfD has passed the 5% threshold required for representation in the National Parliament (Bundestag) this campaign of vilification is reaching new heights.
Throughout Europe those who opposed the waves of immigration since 2015 have been routinely marginalized by strident accusations of bigotry, racism, and xenophobia. These tactics have been very successful in silencing opposition to government immigration policies such as Merkel’s and also driving public opinion underground owing to the stigma attached to those questioning such policies.
Nonetheless polls have repeatedly shown strong public opposition to surging immigration and its social, economic, and cultural consequences. What the ARD exit polls show is that this opposition has grown dramatically in Germany.
Merkel now faces a near insurmountable problem in forming a government. Horst Seehofer, Bavarian Premier and Chairman of CDU’s sister party the Christian Socialist Union (CSU)- a severe critic of Merkel’s opening of German borders in 2015- has declared that the CDU/CSU must dramatically change its policy on immigration. Merkel’s other potential coalition partners- Green Party (9%) and Free Democrats (11%)-are at loggerheads with Merkel and each other. Her current coalition partner-the SPD- has flatly ruled out any further “cohabitation”.
The AfD will continue to be ostracized and undermined by the establishment parties, but the policies they espouse- notably Euro-Skepticism and immigration curtailment- will now have a national platform. More importantly the long suppression of popular opposition to uncontrolled immigration is ending and every German politician has been reminded that elections have consequences and that in a democracy the voice of the people still matters.
William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post and Human Events.