The European Union is threatened by nationalist and populist movements. Angela Merkel’s party, CDU, came in first in the German national election and so she will remain the Chancellor of Germany, for the fourth term. However, this is not a great victory for the leader of the Christian Democratic Union and for Europe in general, because what’s important here is that for the first time in post-World War 2 history, an extreme right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), came in third in the national election, getting around 13% of the votes. But who are they and how did they manage to get so many votes? And what does this success mean for Germany and Europe?
Alternative for Germany was founded in 2013 by classical liberals who were members of the center-right party, CDU. Shortly afterwards, and especially after one million migrants had come to Germany in 2015, AfD started to focus essentially on immigration policy, promising to combat illegal migration and to stop European Union integration, as well as to increase border security. The party line became very nationalistic and populistic.
The SPD leader, Martin Schultz, is one of the biggest losers in the national elections. The social democrats obtained the worst result recorded in their history, getting around 20% of the votes. Immediately, the leader of the Social Democratic Party commented: “It is a rough day for our democracy” and he claimed that his party would not support the government, thus becoming the most important opposition party.
Therefore, Angela Merkel must seek a coalition with the Greens and the Free Democratic Party. Forming a group with these two such different parties to establish a stable government is a challenge but Merkel is “very optimistic” about the formation of new coalitions and she said they will be successful, even if she lost about one million of votes, got by the far-right party, AfD.
How could such a party get so many votes? This represents a protest vote by the part of the German people that doesn’t trust Merkel’s policy anymore. If once it looked like a protest vote against bad economic policy, now the biggest issues are immigration policy, defence policy, and national security. German people are worried and afraid of the European Union, which seems to be unable to address such current problems like immigration and terrorism. That’s why they don’t trust the open-door policy anymore, just like the British with Brexit before them. The German elections have shown the emergence of new parties, expressions of popular dissent against traditional parties.
However, AfD has already found some problems in its growth path. One day after election night, Frauke Petry, the chair of the party since 2015, announced that she wouldn’t join AfD’s caucus in Parliament because the party line has changed from the original one, adopting xenophobic and denial policies.
Nowadays, the whole European Union is facing unprecedented upheavals related to immigration, terrorism, Brexit, the Catalan demand for independence, and now: the right-wing German extremists’ growth in popularity. The traditional European policy appears to be unprepared for such a situation. The issue is that all these unexpected events were born from the will and the decisions of the people who feel helpless and not protected by national governments and the European Union. And so, it happened in Germany, where a lot of people voted for those who provided security and stability. If traditional mainstream parties do not respond to the citizens’ demands, the nationalist and populist movements will get stronger.