Today is Germany Unity Day, a public holiday. An occasion to ponder political developments in the country.
German Christian Democrats, the CDU, and their sister party in Bavaria, CSU, have followed a policy since the 1960s which left no room for a sizeable political movement to their right. This worked well with only negligible groups of no consequence emerging. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to have changed this strategy, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
A new party, the AfD (Alternative for Germany), emerged in 2013, first with just an economic programme, promoted in principle by some well-recognised economists. The party’s main issue was criticism of the euro. Although it was not a populist or extreme party, the political establishment, including Chancellor Merkel, labelled it right wing and towards the extremist corner.
Propaganda against the AfD by government, the established parties and large parts of the media, was enormous. However their programme was defendable and certainly not radical. Realising the deficiencies of the euro and questioning transfer payments is part of normal political debate.
The new party took almost five per cent of the vote in Germany’s last national elections, despite the hostile propaganda. This was a real success, but just missed the five per cent threshold for a seat in the German Federal Parliament.
The party reached some seven per cent in the European Elections in May 2014 and is now represented in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The big leap came when the party topped some 10 per cent in elections for three German lander or states. AfD is a political factor now. Its members are fierce free market supporters who promote entrepreneurship. But analysis shows gains from the centre – their base – and from the left.
Now the CDU has a real competitor in the centre right. Chancellor Merkel’s election tactics have been to destroy opposition campaigns by taking over their issues. Her decision to phase out nuclear energy left the Green Party without a popular cause. The introduction of minimum wages damaged the Social Democrats.
This short-term tactic was successful for Mrs Merkel’s CDU, but may have alienated supporters on the centre right. The classic economic party, the liberal FDP, was Mrs Merkel’s coalition partner until the last elections and was almost annihilated by following her policies.
So will Mrs Merkel continue to pursue her old tactics and adopt the AfD’s cause? Will she become less supportive of the euro and reduce or stop transfer payments to fiscally shaky eurozone countries?
The AfD’s success in local elections could have European implications.