By Rebecca Fobbe
On Sunday the 24th of September, the last of a series of breath-holding European elections was carried out. After the Dutch and French votes for their new respective heads of states, both events closely monitored due to the great appearance of national right-wing parties (Front Nationale in France and PVV in the Netherlands), there was one big question left: who would become Chancellor of Germany?
Even before the election weekend, polls and experts made it reasonably clear that indeed Angela Merkel would continue her reign over Germany, beating the social-democratic candidate and ex-President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz. With every day that Schulz’ polls result was decreasing, the attention of the international media shrank. The European constant, Chancellor Merkel, would make the race another time, making this her fifth consecutive term, since in Germany there is no limit to holding this office.
But as a matter of fact, while Merkel did receive most votes out of all parties, she did not really win anything. Her party, the Christian-Democratic Union (CDU), suffered the biggest loss of all parties, receiving 8.6% less votes than four years ago. Even the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) only lost 5,2% of their votes. Their result must, however, also be mirrored within the fact that their outcome is an all-time low in party history, which can be connected to the general phenomenon of social-democratic parties seeing declining votes all over Europe.
The real winner of the German elections is the AFD – the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland), which can be ideologically associated with other right-wing parties across Europe (such as Wilder’s PVV or Le Pen’s Front Nationale). The party will move into the national parliament with a record-breaking 12.6%, making it the third biggest party in the German ‘Bundestag’ altogether. Four years ago, the party – participating for the first time – did not even cross the 5% hurdle to get into parliament. In the rare case of the CDU and the SPD forming a Grand Coalition again after all (something both parties are trying to avoid at all costs), the AFD would actually be the biggest opposition party in the parliament, meaning that in every parliamentary discussion, the second speaker would be a very, and I mean very, conservative parliamentarian.
Just to get a taste of this: one of the AFD party’s leaders, known to be closely connected to the right-scene in Germany (read: neo-Nazi), expressed that the doings of the German soldiers in the Second World War (Deutsche Wehrmacht) should be re-evaluated and that Germans should be allowed to be proud of the actions of the Wehrmacht again. Germany, so he said, had done enough to come to terms with its past, and it was time to let things go. Statements like these, at a time where most eyewitnesses of WWII atrocities are slowly passing away, when all other parties – no matter the political spectrum – agree that there is one question that is untouchable: Germany’s responsibilities during the Nazi regime, are unquestionably inappropriate and scandalous.
What is even more scandalous is the lack of acknowledgement by the international media, especially from fellow European countries. There is no public outcry about the massive increase of right-wing voters. Is that because of the belief that anyone who voted for the AFD did so because they were simply unsatisfied with the common German parties? Then how can they explain the 1.2 million non-voters who actually turned up at polling stations just to vote for the AFD?
Or are there no loud voices because in most countries, national, extremely conservative sentiments have already been manifested during elections for quite some time, and nobody is shocked anymore? Has Europe accepted right-wing sentiments, and is simply too comfortable to care? How come that in a country full of nationalist history like Germany, Merkel gets compared to Adolph Hitler when she takes the lead in European politics, but the sentiments expressed by AFD representatives are shrugged away with a simple ‘the elections went okay’? Of course, not all members of the AFD can be titled as neo-Nazis, but the general message coming from the party suggests exclusion, xenophobia and inhumanity, even if their populist slogans are trying to convey another viewpoint.
The numbers of non-voters who showed up just to support the AFD, and the fact that in Eastern Germany, where movements such as PEGIDA have gained great support for a long time already, the AFD actually secured 22.8% of all votes, leads to the assumption that the rise of the AFD is all but a protest vote. They are there to stay. Germany, a country that should have learned a great deal from its past, is facing the unthankful task of integrating this party into German national politics today. One can hope that the SPD is staying true to its statements of going into opposition and therefore taking power away from the AFD. One can also hope that Germany learned from these elections, and that all parties will do more to connect with the people again. Votes for candidates that euphemize WWII simply cannot and should not be accepted.
Rebecca Fobbe, UCR Alumna Class of 2016, MSc International Relations and Diplomacy Leiden University