14.03.2016

Germany: Weimarization or “new normalcy“ in Europe? Elections in times of the refugee crisis

Three similarities (or one generalization) can be established from the results of all three state elections ("Landtagswahlen") taking place in Germany last night. The second and third one are reminiscent of the pre-Nazi era in Germany, the Weimar Republic (1919-1932).


The first one: In all three elections, the incumbents, more due to their own charisma, less due to their party affiliations, came out as winners, sometimes even with significant gains.
 It became pretty clear early on in the evening, that Chancellor Merkel's party, CDU, has failed to re-gain state governments in two states of Southwestern Germany, Baden-Württemberg (10,7 million) and Rhineland-Palatinate (4 million), and has just barely managed to keep one in the Northeastern state of Saxony-Anhalt (2,2 million inhabitants).


Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) with Winfried Kretschmann (Green Party), since 2011
Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg, the third largest German state ("Land") by population and one of three states where parliamentary elections were held yesterday, Sunday (March 13th)


The Chancellor's Christian Democratic Union suffered a disastrous result in its former stronghold Baden-Württemberg, where it had constantly governed for more than 40 years, until 2011, with almost a third of the seats lost, and for the first time, also the position as first party, which the Greens (normally and elsewhere a party of around 5-10% of votes) won, edging out the CDU's measly 27% with a result of 30 %. Many see this mainly due to the personality of of Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann, in contrast to the weak candidate of the CDU, Guido Wolf. In Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU also failed, with Julia Klöckner, who is seen by many as one of the most hopeful possible successors of Ms. Merkel as party leader or even chancellor, losing to incumbent Marie Luise ("Malu") Dreyer of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). And in the Northeastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, the CDU's Rainer Haseloff is set to remain in power, although with a reduced majority and a new coalition.


And this is the second parallel: New coalitions will have to be formed. In all three states, the most likely outcome is a „Grand Coalition“ of the two biggest parties or even a three-party-coalition. This is becoming the "new normalcy", after decades of post-war Germany, when either a centre-right (CDU with the FDP (i.e. Liberal Democrats)) or a centre-left coalition (SPD with either the FDP, the Greens or (in East Germany) with "Die Linke" (the socialist "Left Party")) was almost always possible; now it's almost never and almost nowhere possible anymore across Germany. This “new normalcy“ is that there are now five parties in all of these (and now in most state) parliaments (as was also the case in the federal parliament (Bundestag) between 1990 and 2013, with a Grand Coalition CDU-SPD governing from 2005 to 2009 and again since 2013). Thus, the governing coalitions failed to gain the majorities that they won five years ago in all of the three states. A Green-CDU “Grand“ coalition is likely in Baden-Württemberg, a SPD-CDU coalition in Rhineland-Palatinate (they would be holding 60% and 75% of the seats, respectively) and a CDU-SPD-Green (“black traffic light“) coalition in Saxony-Anhalt (in this Eastern state, even those three parties together would barely have a majority (46 to the opposition 41). This “new normalcy“ reminds us of the situation in the Weimar Republic (1919-1932), a time of instability due to constant changes of governments and coalitions, with a multitude of parties, increasing radicalization, and the disaster of the coming into power of the fascist Nazi regime in 1933.

                                

The logo of the far-right "Alternative for Germany", originally founded as
a neoliberal 
anti-Euro, Eurosceptic party in mid-2013, but having taken a clearly far-right
turn 
last summer (July 2015) at the beginning of the refugee crisis.



Which is linked directly to the third parallel:

In all three elections (and “in tune“ with current developments across almost all of Europe), riding on the anti-refugee wave, with the migrants and refugees as the perceived most pressing “problem“ in Germany, the far-right populist AfD („Alternative for Germany“) party, out of nowhere (i.e. it hadn't contested in these states in 2011) gained 12,6 % (Rhineland-Palatinate), 15,1 % (Baden-Württemberg) and even 24,2 % (Saxony-Anhalt), respectively. With almost 15% (Rhineland-Palatinate), almost 20% (Baden-Württemberg) and almost 30% (Saxony-Anhalt) of the seats, respectively, they are making it impossible for the “established“ parties to form coalitions with their respective ideological partners or, at any rate, to continue in the current constellations (but this is also due to the disastrous results of the SPD in Baden-Württemberg and Saxony-Anhalt; a party that once won around 25% even in their weaker states, has now been reduced to just above 10% in both of these states, and heavy losses of the Greens in Rhineland-Palatinate). The question remains if, as in the past with far-right parties in German state parliaments, the AfD will also be a temporary flash-of-the-pan, one-issue-party, disappearing or being reduced back to minion status within the next five or ten years, or if they will be able to play a longer-term role, like parties with a similar ideology in other European countries, e.g. in Austria, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden, or Poland, do.

With last night's result, the AfD now have MP's in eight out of sixteen state parliaments, and, more importantly for them, have won a double-digit amount of seats in two states (the Southwestern ones) that are outside the traditonally (at least since the "unification" 1990) more right-wing Eastern Germany, specifically the states of Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg, where they already have MP's since 2014 (they also have MP's in the parliaments ("Bürgerschaften", literally "citizenries") of the old Hanse city states of Hamburg and Bremen since early and mid 2015, respectively). Nowhere, though, had they so far won close to the 20 or more seats that they have now in two of the three parliaments that were elected last night. They won 14 of 101 seats in Rhineland-Palatinate, 23 of 143 in Baden-Württemberg, and 24 of 87 in Saxony-Anhalt.

So, is this the end of another German „Sonderweg“ (special path or unique situation, i.e. so far no longer-term strong far-right party), the new “European normalcy“, and if so, is the “new normalcy“ the “Weimarization“ of Europe? We shall see within the next one and a half to two years, with more state elections, in Berlin and the Northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (where the neo-Nazi NPD party has five to six MP's in the Landtag since 2006), coming up in late summer this year, as well as those in North-Rhine Westphalia, the country's most populous state (17 million), in mid-May 2017. They will already be a precursor of the federal elections, that will decide the further fate of Angela Merkel, in one and a half years, in autumn, most likely in September of 2017. In all likelihood, at least five parties (CDU, SPD, the Left Party, the Greens and the AfD) will also have MP's in the Bundestag in Berlin
maybe even six, if the FDP - one of yesterday's (minor) winners - makes a comeback on a federal level, too.



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