The picture that emerges from the German elections, held on September 24, is cause for concern on multiple fronts — especially in the surge to the neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel winning a fourth term and the clear defeat of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the shadow of a resurgent neo-Nazism casts a serious threat not only for Germany itself, but all of Europe.
Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), together with the Christian Social Union (CSU), obtained a relative majority: CDU-CSU got 33% of the votes and 246 seats in the 630-seat Bundestag (the German Parliament) — down about eight points and 65 seats from 2013. Once again, the CDU-CDS will need to form a coalition government.
Germany’s other major political force, the centre-left SPD, won just 20.5% and 153 seats (down about five points and 40 seats). However, a so-called Grand Coalition — namely, the coalition between CDU-CSU and SPD that governed Germany from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2013 to today — looks impossible.
Most SPD members, taking a negative view of the results of the Grand Coalitions, declared that they were not willing to support a new alliance with Merkel.
The only possible solution for Merkel seems to be to try to form a coalition with the Greens (with 8.9% of the vote and 67 seats) and the ultra-free market Free Democratic Party (FPD, with 10.7% and 78 seats).
The German Greens, originally a left-wing party of protest, have long abandoned any economic radicalism. The FDP, for its part, has focused its policies on privatisation and deregulation, but has taken ambiguous positions on crucial issues such as migrants and European integration.
With a new coalition, the minor parties will likely have key roles that increase their political clout, significantly influencing the government’s decisions. Therefore, the new government will have an even stronger neoliberal character than the preceding one — and this is not good news.
Merkel now has the difficult task of holding together the most intransigent wing of her party, which advocates for tougher policies on immigration and economy, and its moderate side.
However, Merkel is an astute politician and knows she can count on the desire for political and economic stability of German people. Moreover, the government program still needs to be approved by the members of the governing parties, meaning that the games in the Bundestag are not yet over.
Merkel’s political abilities should not be underestimated. It cannot be excluded that, in the end, CDU-CSU will impose their conditions on their allies, and not the opposite.
The real loser of these elections is the SPD, led by the long-standing member of the European Parliament Martin Schulz. At first, SPD seemed to be leading in the polls and Schulz seemed set to win. However, in the May regional elections, the SPD was defeated and was unable to recover for the September 24 vote.
The SDP’s stronger early polling came at a time when Schulz appeared critical of the Grand Coalition and in favour of more radical policies, sounding not too far from the platform of Britain’s socialist Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. However, in the later part of his electoral campaign, Schulz opted for a lower profile, without improving his party’s fate.
It is likely that the SPD’s base does not approve of the policies adopted by the party in recent years, and considers the SPD itself as a mere executor of Merkel’s agenda. After all, the CDU-CSU/SPD coalition has governed Germany for eight of the past 12 years.
The defeat of the SPD is a further sign of the crisis of European social democrats. With the sole exception of Corbyn, they have proven unable to take a clear stand against the unpopular neoliberal policies adopted by the European Union.
The far right
The far right will enter the Bundestag for the first time since World War II. The neo-Nazi AfD won 12.6% and 94 seats. It is now the third-largest political force.
The AfD will not take part in talks with Merkel and will be in opposition to the new government.
Some journalists and politicians have defined AfD as a “populist” party, but this definition hides the ultra-reactionary and neo-Nazi soul of the party. It risks underestimating the real danger that such a political force poses.
To get an idea of what kind of people they are, just look at AfD leader Bjorn Hocke. During the electoral campaign, he said that “Hitler did good things too” and described the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin as “a monument of shame in the heart of the capital”.
The party includes members such as Robert Teske, who said that the deadly neo-Nazi violence at Charlottesville in the United States in August was “provoked”, and Jens Maier, who called refugees “scum”.
On top of this, 24 hours after the elections, there was the first split in AfD. Frauke Petry, who represented the “moderate side” (sic) of the party, said she would not be part of the AfD’s parliamentary group. Instead, she will enter the parliament as an independent.
This reflects the victory of the “extremist wing” (sic) of the party, led by Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel, whose ultra-reactionary, xenophobic and conspiracy-theory ideas are no mystery.
The AfD should not be underestimated and must be fought by all democratic forces. Winning the votes of 12.6% of German people is no small matter, so democratic forces should not make the error of minimising the real threat posed by AfD.
The radical left
In this regard, leader of radical left party Die Linke (The Left) Bernd Riexinger said his party “will be the toughest adversary of AfD and will firmly oppose its nationalist and racist policies”.
Die Linke obtained 9.2% of the votes and won 66 seats in the Bundestag. This result is a slight improvement on 2013, when it won 8.6% and 64 seats.
From this position, it is clear Die Linke will lead the fight against resurgent neo-Nazi sentiments in Germany.
Protests against the AfD began immediately. Hundreds of people surrounded the Berlin branch of the AfD, in an effort to ruin their “victory party”.
The message is clear: there’s no space — in Germany or anywhere — for people who support dangerous and anti-democratic ideologies, which have already been defeated and overtaken by history.
Riexinger admitted Die Linke must improve its social policies, acknowledging that in these elections, “AfD has been able to exploit the class divisions to its own benefit”. These comments are less an admission of guilt as an encouraging sign, showing that the radical left is still alive and willing to struggle for social justice.
Die Linke has constantly fought against the neoliberal policies of the three Merkel-led governments. It has become a point of reference for those people who still believe in left-wing ideas, despite the failure of the social democrats’ policies, entirely sacrificed in the name of the neoliberal stability.
A number of political analysts has predicted a period of instability for Germany — and, consequently, for the EU. However, some caution may be called for in this regard.
If, on the one hand, it is undoubtedly true that the next German government will not have an easy life, on the other hand it must be noted that Merkel’s political weight is still remarkable and will be used to preserve the current state of affairs.
Europe’s left-wing forces now have a dual role to play: they have to continue opposing the neoliberal policies of the dominant status quo — personified by Merkel — and struggle to stem the advance of neo-fascism, which is rising all over Europe.
This task is anything but easy, but it is a fundamental test that it must not fail. In this historical period, the left must be able to reaffirm its values and win ordinary people back to its side. There are some good examples in this regard, such as Corbyn in Britain, Bernie Sanders in the US and Jean Luc-Melenchon in France, but there’s still a long way to go.
The left cannot be satisfied with its current standing or the general political situation. The results for Die Linke, Corbyn-led Labour and Melenchon’s unexpectedly strong showing in the French presidential elections in April are just a starting point. The left needs to strengthen itself, based on the policies that led to these successes, if it really wants to take power.