European Union

This German election marks a tidal change in European politics

The success of the far-right AfD is symptomatic of a dissolving political centre-ground. Can the established parties adapt to changing times? Or will they stay the same, and fail? More urgently than ever we must ask what the alternatives are to European dissolution.

Germany voted. Almost 13% of the electors chose the Alternative für Deutschland. Another populist victory, another success for the right wing, as so many before since last June’s fateful Brexit referendum. With a voter participation rate of over 76%, we cannot even say that people didn’t care. Voters cared, they were fed up, and disillusioned with the established parties. 13 % demonstrated that they want the future of their country in the hands of a racist, reactionary troop.

Unsurprisingly, like Britain, like post-Trump America, like France and the Netherlands, voters and politicians from the established parties in Germany are recovering the day after a result that has symbolic weight. They now too are reminding each other to “resist”, to “persist”, to “not give up.”

These are nice sentiments sure, but the unavoidable fact still remains: the AfD, a party with outspoken racists and deputies with ties to neo-Nazi organizations has made it to the German Bundestag. Only two generations away from World War II and the Shoah, Germans are shocked. Survivors are still among us, and so is the same racist belief and propaganda that once propelled the NSDAP to power.

But while the AfD was celebrating its victory –greeted by 1000 protesters outside their election night party – the CDU and SPD were starting to grasp their losses. The SPD has suffered its worst election result in its history with 20,5% of the vote. The biggest loser of the last four years, however, seems to be the CDU/CSU coalition. Their results dropped by over 8% compared to the 2013 elections.

This election redefines the role of every player in the German political landscape. The results are part of a tidal change in European politics. The percentages of the German election bring important changes, not only on the governmental, but also the oppositional side.

In the governmental coalition, we could see a completely new assembly of powers: If the so-called “Jamaica” coalition is agreed upon, greens and neoliberals will govern together, moderated by Merkel’s experienced diplomacy. How about that for solving the Diesel-crisis?

On the oppositional side, the SPD has declared that they want to take on their “oppositional bidding”. Having lost nothing of their pathos, they now set out to save Germany from a Nazi party as leader of the opposition. Cooperation in the opposition, of Left, SPD, and AfD, will be difficult, if not impossible.

These ideological differences, both in a Jamaica coalition and the opposition, might leave Merkel and the CDU as the only sane political party in this equation. Yet the oppositional role is a gift for the SPD. They finally have the opportunity to reshape their position and clarify their stand on Europe, labor law, and migration, outside of Merkel’s shadow.

As a leader of the opposition, Martin Schulz could show where his power truly lies: as an experienced European politician. A freed Schulz could defend the values of an open-minded continent in the face of xenophobic hatred.

Tough times, as he must realize, call for creative solutions. Let’s see if the established parties can take this opportunity to shake the curse of right-wing populism in Europe.


Lead image, Petra B. Fritz, Flickr. Some rights reserved.