Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Complicated
Legacy

Daily: Future Directions International
Date: 10.03.21

Background

On 3 March 2021, Thomas Haldenwang, Head of the Federal Office for the Protection of
the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s intelligence bureau for domestic issues, announced that
Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right political party, was a threat to both democracy
and freedom in Germany and hence a suspected extremist group. Further, he said, the BfV
planned to place party officials other than AfD parliamentarians under surveillance, observe
their meetings, read their e-mails and listen in on their phone calls. Unfortunately, that
could not happen because a German court ruled against those activities.

Comment

Founded on 6 February 2013 in Berlin, the AfD began as a conservative, anti-Euro
movement but, in 2014, turned anti-foreigners, especially anti-Muslims, and now anti-
democracy. The BfV thinks that, since 2019, the AfD has been sliding further into the right-
wing extremist fringe. Germany’s next general election is almost six months away.

On 11 October 2014, when the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West
(PEGIDA) was formed, the AfD came to its support. The AfD’s head, Bernd Lucke, publicly
supported PEGIDA. This was the point at which the AfD witnessed a sharp rise in its
popularity. For instance, in Dresden, where the participants in PEGIDA’s demonstrations
(the so-called neo-Nazis in pinstripes) numbered around 5,000 in October 2014, owing to
the support of the AfD, that number increased to 15,000 defying severe cold in December
2014.

Workers of the AfD enthusiastically participated in the demonstrations staged by the
PEGIDA and showed solidarity with it at the occasion of any police crackdown. Owing to the
AfD support, PEGIDA’s support base swelled quickly. Interestingly, the head of the AfD is a
former member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU),
which forms the ruling coalition with the Christian Social Union (CSU). In 2005, Merkel’s rise
to the office of Chancellor was attributed to her right-wing sloganeering that helped her to
oust centre-left Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s party, the Social Democratic Party of
Germany (SPD) from power. Herr Schröder had advocated for the Third Way: technological
innovation, competitive enterprise and education. After assuming power, however, Ms
Merkel turned moderate. The about-face annoyed her right-wing followers. Consequently,
resentment in the rank and file of the CDU-CSU grew.

To halt the wave of antipathy towards her policies, Chancellor Merkel decided to pander to
the needs of the right-wing members of her party. In October 2010, while addressing the
youth wing of the CDU-CSU union at Potsdam, in Brandenburg state, she stated
unequivocally that multiculturalism had failed in Germany (
Multi kulti ist gescheitert). A few
moments later, she reiterated her stance by saying that multiculturalism had failed in
absolute terms, leaving no space for other than German culture to thrive in Germany. She
was, perhaps, late in exploiting the right-wing conservative leanings of party dissidents
because, in April 2013, along with his thousands of followers, Bernd Lucke forfeited his 33-
year long allegiance to the CDU and founded the AfD to reify the right-wing conservative
dream that had helped Merkel woo the voters to elect her to the office of the Chancellor.

In the general election that was held in September 2013, the AfD secured about four per
cent of the vote. Although it did not meet the five per cent limit required for a party to enter
the Bundestag (the German Parliament), the AfD focussed on the vote bank of the CDU-
CSU coalition, which worried Merkel; she decided to counter the AfD. In January 2015,
Chancellor Merkel addressed party workers in Hamburg and made right-wing utterances
such as ‘when the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago [in 1989], many thought we had done it, but
we have just seen again that there are many who do not hold the same values as us.’ Once
again, she insinuated anti-multiculturalism. Her efforts were to no avail; in the general
election held in September 2017, the AfD secured about 12 per cent of the vote, with 89
out of 709 seats, and sat on the opposition benches as the third-largest party in the
Bundestag and the largest in the opposition. It was the first time in post-war Germany that a
far-right political party had won voters’ confidence and seats in the Bundestag.

The major reason for the rise of the AfD is not to promote any economic agenda but to
oppose multiculturalism in Germany. The AfD stands against foreigners, especially people
from the Indian sub-continent. That is the same sentiment that Angela Merkel once
exploited to ascend to the office of Chancellor, i.e., to conserve German competitiveness
(
Deutsche Wettbewerbsfähigkeit) and keep non-Germans out of Germany, a modern
variation of the principle of
Blut und Boden (“blood and soil”).

Whereas Chancellor Merkel projected herself as being tolerant towards multiculturalism
publicly, she supported anti-multiculturalism in her party meetings. Her doublespeak
confused both the Germans and non-Germans residing in Germany. The rise of the AfD
was a reaction to her policy of tolerating multiculturalism publicly. She has decided not to
contest the forthcoming general election. She wanted the CDU-CSU to nominate some
other party member to contest the elections. Now, the room is open for the AfD to assert
itself, which is why its activities have increased manifold and been noticed by the German
intelligence machinery, which appears to ignore the fact that the AfD leaders are actually
following Chancellor Merkel’s strategy.

The overall situation indicates that, since the departure of Gerhard Schröder’s SPD in
2005, Germany has slid towards right-wing racial conservatism. In 2017, the German
electorate upheld far-right wing racial extremism. It is expected that, in the elections in
September this year, the AfD is bound to increase its electoral-winning percentage far
beyond the previously achieved 12 per cent by exploiting the abandoned legacy of
outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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