German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a new “painful” coalition on Feb. 7, which makes Germany’s far-right populist party her main opposition. Merkel, leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), proposed the formation of a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SDP) after failing to contract with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and Green Party.
Merkel’s only option was to work with the FDP and the Greens, known as the “Jamaica” coalition (the colors of the three parties together mirror those of the Jamaican flag) after the German election on Sept. 24, in which centrist parties had their “worst showing” in the post-war era, according to Professor of Political Science Pamela Camerra-Rowe.
“This is the first time that a far-right nationalist party has gotten into the Bundestag in the post-war period since the Nazis,” Camerra-Rowe, an expert on European politics, said.
“I must say I was relieved to see that they only received 13 percent of the vote…because of the effects of right-wing populism all over the world at the moment,” Associate Professor of German Paul Gebhardt, a native German who votes with the Green Party, said. “It’s not only a German problem, it’s even more so in France and the Netherlands.”
Although the Green Party made many concessions during negotiations, FDP leader Christian Lindner ultimately “decided that he wasn’t going to play ball,” according to Camerra-Rowe, who called the move a “mistake” on Lindner’s part.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, declined to hold new elections and convinced his party to come back to the table, creating an opportunity for Merkel to strike a deal. If the Social Democrats accept the terms of the grand coalition by early March, a government will be formed.
An anti-Eurozone, anti-immigrant and nationalist party with links to far-right extremist groups like Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West movement (PEGIDA), the Alternative for Germany (AfD) now has the opportunity to hold a national platform as the third largest and major opposition party, if the grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and SDP is finalized.
Economist Bernd Lucke founded the AfD in 2013, breaking off from the Christian Democrats in reaction to Greece’s Debt Crisis. He argued that Germany should exit the Eurozone and end support for countries who were in deficit. Since then, Lucke has left the party, which currently has strong support in regions like Saxony in eastern Germany. Many fear that the party could eclipse the Social Democrats.
“The first thing that sparked the anti-Euro movement that made the foundation of the AfD possible [was] the repeated bailout of Greece that Germany committed to help with billions of euros … I would say that was a very strong factor because of course the German taxpayer had to foot that bill. That was definitely when we started talking about the AfD,” Gebhardt said.
Many believe that the German establishment parties have failed to address the needs and concerns of German citizens. In fact, a post-election survey found that “about 60 percent of AfD voters said that they voted for the AfD as a protest vote against the establishment parties,” according to Camerra-Rowe.
In addition, Merkel accepted “over a million migrants” in her previous term according to Camerra-Rowe. This decision, which received criticism from her own party, became an influential part of the AfD’s platform. “It’s only within the last 20 years that Germans have begun to think of themselves as a country of immigration,” Associate Professor of German Leo W. Riegert said.
“It was next to impossible to become a German citizen until fairly recently without being descended from a German … I think in the United States we are more accustomed to seeing people of other ethnicities and thinking of them as being American,” Riegert said.
The AfD can use its opposition platform to gain more support across Germany, but it could mean the end of Merkel’s tenure as Chancellor and a changed Germany.
“There is no guarantee that this coalition will last a full term,” a Feb. 7 New York Times article said. If it fails, there will either be an attempt at a minority government, or a call for a snap election where “the extremes will benefit — both inside and outside the main parties.”
Gebhardt is optimistic that “the course could be reversed” if Germans can see the integration of refugees into German culture in a positive light.
Many like Gebhardt have faith in the conscience of post-war Germany. Camerra-Rowe is “cautiously optimistic” that there will be a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD, as “there is a national consciousness in Germany that you don’t find in every other country where…they are very concerned about political and economic stability … There are enough people who say ‘we need to put the interests of the country ahead of the interests of the party.’”
“It’s hard to judge, because we don’t know how the AfD is going to act in government … There is always going to be some support for them, but I think that a grand coalition that can address some of these issues regarding labor policy and aid to families with children would be positive accomplishments that also might bring back some of the protest voters … I don’t see the AfD growing into a major political force,” Camerra-Rowe said.