Why is Merkel’s Germany so liberal with the refugees? Did the last elections change that?

Sigmar Gabriel, Vice Chancellor of Germany and Chairman of the Social-Democratic Party speaking ahead of a Council meeting in Brussels. Gabriel is a reliable partner in the CDU-SPD coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel. EU audiovisual services. © European Union.

Sigmar Gabriel, Vice Chancellor of Germany and Chairman of the Social-Democratic Party speaking ahead of a Council meeting in Luxembourg. Gabriel is a reliable partner in the CDU-SPD coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel. EU audiovisual services. © European Union.

There are many lessons to be learned from last Sunday’s elections in Germany. For one thing, the widely expected electoral setback that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) experienced last Sunday doesn’t seem to constitute a major blow to her dominant political status. She continues to be the central figure in her country’s political scenery.

In recent national opinion polls Merkel scored approval by more than 50% of responders. This is her highest rating this year, and was recorded after she appeared positively disposed towards the controversial Turkish proposal of 7 March, about managing the refugee flows to Europe, against grave concessions to Ankara.

Can the AfD change things?

There are more messages the German voters sent last Sunday from the three German federal states, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in the west and Saxony-Anhalt in the east. The just three years old extreme right, Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party (AfD) and its pale faced leader Frauke Petry win is surely a development to be reckoned with.

However, this party didn’t manage to create a real threat for the absolute supremacy of the governing alliance between the CDU and the Social-Democratic Party (SPD). They still jointly control 80% of the seats in the Federal assembly, the Bundestag. The reason why this new AfD party cannot change the course of Germany is that it has no visible partners with whom to form government coalitions anywhere in the country. It’s the only party no other political force wants to be seen cooperating with.

The Greens won in Baden-Württemberg

In some respects the first position with 31.4% of the votes that the Greens won in Baden-Württemberg is politically more important than the electoral gains of the AfD. It’s the first time in the history of the Green Alliance that this party records a clear electoral win in a länder of the Federal Republic. It’s not clear yet, but there are options for the Greens to lead a coalition Baden-Württemberg government probably with the SPD.

In the losers’ side the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) defeat may be the most important result and an urgent warning from the last elections in the three federal states. It means a lot for its leader Sigmar Gabriel, a high school teacher by profession, who failed however to take any lessons from the electoral results. His deputy Ralf Stegner, asked by the Press if Gabriel has any problems regarding his leadership of the party he replied, “No, not at all.” Obviously the SPD leader is very happy with his present jobs as Vice-Chancellor of Germany and Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy.

The Social-Democrat casualties

In reality, Gabriel’s government activities are under the spell of Merkel and his party policies can barely be distinguished from what the Chancellor dictates. This can be a great disadvantage for him and his party in the future. If the SPD loses its pivotal role in the German political arena, the whole picture of the country’s political life would have to be redrawn. Nevertheless, this eventuality doesn’t constitute an imminent danger, that’s why Gabriel feels secure having nothing to change. The win of the incumbent SPD state premier Malu Dreyer in Rhineland-Palatinate was a good consolation for SPD, but the party lost half its voters in Saxony-Anhalt and more than ten percent overall in the three states. In any case SPD is a deeply rooted institution in Germany’s political environment.

All taken into account, there is no doubt that Merkel’s liberal position on the refugee issue cost her party a lot in last Sunday’s election. Despite that, the Chancellor refuses to close Germany’s borders to refugees and points a finger to the EU countries who do this. It’s evident that Berlin knows very well that immigrants voluntary or otherwise have always been a help to Germany.

What the industry wants

It is characteristic that Merkel has found the strongest support for her open borders policy in the BDI, the Federation of German Industries, the well-known organization which represents 36 sectorial associations, comprising over 100,000 large, medium-sized and small enterprises, with around eight million employees. This is where the heart of the country beats.

Understandably, these people know much better than many politicians what is best for Germany, and they obviously consider the one million refugees who entered the country last year as an asset, not a liability. The German industrialists are renowned about their know-how to discipline foreign laborers and put them to work. They have done this more than once in the past and it paid huge dividends for them and the country.

Merkel knows what she is doing

It’s pretty clear then that Merkel realizes very well what she is doing, by keeping Germany’s borders open to immigrants and refugees. Politically, she is following the paradigms of her predecessors who didn’t count their personal political cost, when the future of their country was at stake. Only her immediate predecessor Gerhard Schröder, the previous Chancellor chose to quit in the middle of his second term because his party, the SPD refused to endorse his groundbreaking but unpopular policy pack, badly needed in order to revitalize the then ailing German economy.

Not to forget, that until 2005 Germany was the ‘European patient’, with rising unemployment and growing deficits. It’s more than certain then that Merkel won’t change her attitude towards the refugees and immigrants no matter what the AfD says or does. Many political parties like it have disappeared in the past, with the latest case being the Free Democratic Party under Guido Westerwelle.

Once again with Merkel, the German political pantheon proves to be a very strong asset for the country, which is not the case for many European nations. In many EU countries leading politicians either follow a personal agenda or prove to be corrupt. This is not the case with Merkel.

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