By Wolfgang Münchau
For all those of you who think the German elections are boring, consider the following anecdote. Alexander Gauland, one of the two AfD leaders in this week’s election has effectively issued a death threat to a German minister, Aydan Özoguz. He said he wanted to “dispose of her” in Anatolia. Ms Özoguz is a German citizen whose parents immigrated from Turkey. She is the German government’s chief official responsible for integration.
You can interpret his words in a different way of course. The expression “entsorgen” may just mean “to deport”, but even this would be unconstitutional in respect of a German citizen. More troubling, the language is very reminiscent of the dehumanising Nazi language of the 1930s.
If the latest polls are right, it is quite possible that Mr Gauland may end up as the official leader of the opposition of the 19th Bundestag. This will happen if the CDU/CSU once again find no other coalition partner than the SPD. Given the tendency of senior SPD politicians to cling to their government jobs and ministerial limousines, we would not discount the possibility of another grand coalition. In this case, we could see a party that uses similar language to the Nazis in a leading role in the Bundestag.
Of course, the AfD has no chance to enter government this time, and probably not in 2021 either. But another grand coalition will weaken the SPD further, and transform it into yet another small party. In 2021, CDU and SPD may no longer have a majority on their own. They may need a third coalition partner to form a government. Or a fourth. In this respect, the Netherlands is just a few years ahead of Germany. Yes, there is a majority against Geert Wilders, but it takes four parties find it, and those four parties only have a majority of a single seat.
The AfD is one of the most radical of Europe’s right wing parties. It is much more radical than Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France. Le Pen has been dithering about the EU and the euro. The AfD was founded as an anti-euro party, and has since become even more radicalised. Anti-Europeanism is no longer what defines the AfD, but it is still there. They have moved on to the real nasty stuff. This is not Germany’s version of UKIP.
Even if it is not fair to describe the majority of its voters and members as outright Nazis, this is clearly a party with a high degree of tolerance for Nazis, and with deep roots in German nationalism.
Mr Gauland‘s co-leader is Alice Weidel. As a businesswoman she represents the professional wing of the party. But behind this serious surface lurk ugly remnants of nationalist paranoia. An old email of hers surfaced during the election campaign, in which she wrote the following to an acquaintance several years ago:
The reason why we are swamped by alien cultures like Arabs, Sinti and Roma, is the systematic destruction of the civil society as a potential counterweight by the enemies of the constitution who are governing us.
This is not the language of business but of right-wing conspiracy theories. Together with Mr Gauland, Ms Weidel could end up as the co-leader of the opposition.
So we are only a few days away from an election in which Germany will for the first time in over 60 years elect ultra-nationalists, Nazi sympathisers, Nazi apologists, and yes, some Nazis themselves, to the Bundestag.
The arrival of the AfD will change German politics profoundly. The AfD already captured the mood of the public when it exploited their fears and their anger over Angela Merkel‘s 2015 decision to open the borders to Syrian refugees. The party will act in a similar way in the next eurozone crisis. Sure, the CDU/CSU and the SPD will have a comfortable majority, but not big enough to change the constitution, and perhaps not large enough to immunise themselves against virulent anti-Europeanism. With the AfD as the official leading opposition party, Germany‘s political room for manoeuvre in the debate on eurozone governance reform or any future rescue programmes shrinks further.
On this front, the AfD and the seemingly more moderate FDP are in tacit agreement. The FDP advocates an open breach of the EU treaties, by favouring a Greek exit from the eurozone. It wants to phase out the European stability mechanism, which would effectively destabilise the eurozone. It is quite possible that FDP and AfD together account for some 20% of the members of the new Bundestag. The Left Party is also a highly unpredictable fair-weather friend of the EU, and can always be counted on to oppose the government’s policies. That makes a potential of 30% of opposition MPs who can be relied upon to sabotage any form of EU- or eurozone-related legislation. Adding to this the number of CDU/CSU MPs who are deeply eurosceptic – not a majority, but a loud minority – you may find that a nominally pro-European government is hamstrung by a largely eurosceptic parliament. In its various EU and eurozone rulings, the German constitutional court has gradually strengthened the role of the Bundestag. This mattered little in the last four years, when the grand coalition had a majority of 80%. But it will matter after the elections.
The elections will not overthrow Merkel from government, but they will change the parliament, and they will change what Germans will debate and how they will debate it. Make no mistake. These are hugely important elections.