By Patrick Brogan
Angela won a fourth term as German Chancellor, but it was her party’s worst performance since she took over. While the bureaucrats in Brussels will surely be happy with her re-election, it is far from convincing. Questions have even been raised in her party as to whether she is the person to lead Germany forward, if you believe the rumours.
A Strong Economy
Frau Merkel, as elements of the British media love to disparagingly refer to her, is one of the most recognisable leaders on the world stage and is one of the architects of a modern Europe. If Germany is the powerhouse of the European Union, then Merkel certainly has left her imprint on the continent as its leader since 2005.
In that time, Germany grew economically and became the undisputed driving force within the Eurozone. The economy is settled and competitive in international terms. It is expected to grow again next year with domestic public debt forecast to be reduced along with unemployment (3.9%). Added to this, one-off events like the 2006 Fifa World Cup which was described as Germany’s Woodstock by the French media due to its euphoria-inducing affect on the host nation.
That’s a long time ago now. Since that, much has changed. While the German economy has powered on, the other Eurozone economies cannot say the same. It has, to be frank, struggled. Some countries have needed bailouts, others came close, but all suffered from a downturn. Germany’s economy did not feel the detrimental effect the way other countries did, but it has not been immune from the criticism. In fact, Germany has come in for a huge amount of denigration, particularly in the way it handled the Greek situation.
The raft of bailouts that Germany ardently supported did much harm to the European economy and is part of the reason many countries have struggling to get to recovery. Many Germans felt the same way and some economists even formed a party to voice their concerns. More on that later.
The factor that is cited for Angela Merkel’s declining popularity is her handling of the refugee crisis in Europe. Widely praised for her stance on taking in as many migrants as possible from war-torn countries, this quickly reversed as it was seen as reckless altruism. To make this worse, she wanted every other EU country to follow suit. Then the terrorist attacks started and then she climbed down from her position. Despite her change in stance, the criticism stuck, and has gotten worse to some degree.
While the SPD‘s Martin Schulz was tipped as the man to beat Merkel, in reality, he didn’t really come close. He didn’t really seem to capture the public’s imagination. Indeed, none this election did, it was a low-energy affair when compared to the European Referendum in Britan, the US Presidential Election and the General Elections in France and the Netherlands. Although, this election did share something in common with these, the rise of the Far-right. In many ways, theAlternative für Deutschland (AfD) stole the headlines.
The Rise of the Far-right
The AfD is the aforementioned group that got together to voice their concerns about the Greek bailout deals. Since then, they have become the most vocal critics of Merkel’s migration policies. Widely criticised and accused of racism, the party were an unknown quantity coming into the elections. Now they are the third biggest party. To be fair, they’re still an unknown quantity as one of their leaders, Frauke Petry, decided to walk away from the party saying they were good in opposition but not a proper alternative. Indeed, the party has been filled with internal tension for some time now.
Although there may be a hunger for Far-right policies in continental Europe, like most countries where the Far-right have risen, there is political fatigue. Germany is a great example. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have only been three Chancellors. Only two parties have been in power since 1949. The German political scene is stagnant, to say the least. Add to this, East Germany is not seen as being on a level with the rest of the country, not least by the East Germans themselves.
What Happens Now?
The AfD seem to be caught out by their own success and it remains to be seen if they can mount a proper challenge. The Social Democrats will have to go off and lick their wounds after what is projected to be their worst result since 1949. That just leaves an increasingly unpopular Merkel. It looks likely the big weave will probably come from her own party, and possibly before the next General Election.
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