Angela Merkel could become 'eternal chancellor' - expert
The Berlin political scientist Heiko Langner on the migration situation in Germany, the political rise of the far-right 'Alternative for Germany' party, the crisis of the neoliberal model and the reasons for the 'eternal chancellorship' of Angela Merkel.
- The crisis situation, which has arisen as a result of an influx of refugees from the Middle East to Europe, was the central theme in Germany in 2016. The terrorist attacks and resonant crimes committed by people who had fled from the military regions and were accepted in Europe, have provoked great uncertainty in the German society. How would you assess the level of integration of refugees in Germany?
- First of all, I want to argue one point. Despite certain negative events, all the present-day scientific studies prove that the crime statistics among refugees does not deviate from the average figure in the German society by any significant extent. So, if we consider the criminal statistics on immigrants from certain countries, then, for example, crime statistics among the refugees from Syria and Afghanistan is much lower than the average among all the refugees. The people of these two countries fled, first of all, from the war and most of them are highly motivated to integrate in Germany and follow local laws, as they rule out the prospect of returning to their homeland. If refugees commit crimes, they should not receive both concessions and disadvantages in comparison with the local population. German laws should operate equally for all who live here.
There are more than 80 million people in Germany. In 2015, some 1.2 million refugees entered the country, not all of them stayed. This is 1.5% of the total German population maximum. In Lebanon, every fourth is a refugee, and Turkey has accepted 3 million of Syrian refugees! This are completely different levels.
In this respect, the integration of refugees in Germany is possible in principle. However, the Chancellor Angela Merkel's statement, who has put forward the 'We can do it' slogan, have been not followed by any sufficient actions. Many refugees are attending classes on integration and the German language. But the Federal Service for Migration and Refugees has not yet processed 425,000 applications for refugee status. Integration into society and the labor market requires considerably more effort. At the moment, only 40 thousand refugees have jobs. I think that the period of 5-10 years is a realistic goal for the integration of refugees into the labor market. Migration crisis has exposed many structural problems in Germany, which have existed for a long time, but it is not the cause of them. Therefore, it is important that refugees and other disadvantaged social groups gain advantage, to create a win-win situation and preserve harmony in the society. Newcomers and locals should not be set against each other. For example, currently there is an urgent need of more housing at affordable prices in urban areas. It is necessary to avoid increased competition in the labor market, especially in sectors with lower wages, and for this there should be no exceptions to the provisions on the minimum wage. Everything else would be a political conjuncture program for the right-populist 'Alternative for Germany' party, which would be happy to say that refugees "take away" apartments and jobs from the Germans.
- Initially, many experts believed that the success of 'Alternative for Germany' at the regional elections is only temporary and the rise of right-wing populism is transient. But according to opinion polls, the party is gaining about 15% of the vote in Germany. Moreover, it is also represented in many regional parliaments. One gives the impression that the party is on the way to becoming the third most popular political force in the country...
- The fact that 'Alternative for Germany' won 4.7% of the vote at the last parliamentary elections in 2013, and fell just short of getting into the parliament, like free democrats from the FDP, is often overlooked. Then, the current refugee situation was not even the issue. Today's success of right-wing populists has structural reasons, but it is based on actual events. Structural reasons include the fact that the "grand coalitions" of the CDU/CSU and the SPD, in principle, contribute to the political polarization in society, as these both centrist "national parties," united in one government, actually cannot compete. In the days of the end of the first grand coalition's ruling under Angela Merkel in 2009, the young 'Die Linke' faction benefited from this situation. Now in the first place, AfD benefits from this, since the CDU lost the fight for conservative voters on the right wing. For this group of voters such topics as internal security, restrictive policies on refugees and migrants, as well as the advantage of traditional family values and marriage against new lifestyles are important. And, as it seems to them, in these issues AfD is more in keeping with their needs, rather than the CDU. In parallel, AfD is speculating on frustration among those segments of the population, by stoking populist hostility, which - not without a reason, by the way - find themselves abandoned and left out by the political establishment. It is not a coincidence that in the 2016 regional elections 'Alternative for Germany' won the majority of votes of ordinary workers and unemployed, although this party does not represent their interests and even advocates the abolition of unemployment insurance. The party positions itself as part of a 'protest from the bottom' against the establishment, so in case of success, it would be able to benefit from the system, against which it allegedly wants to fight. The party is trying to cover up the absolute lack of conceptual understanding on specific issues by the populist incitement against everything foreign, minorities and dissidents. It is also pleased to introduce itself as a victim of an alleged media cartel, which is allegedly carrying out dictatorship of opinions in the media. The members of the AfD regional parliamentary groups are known for their incompetence, unprofessionalism and numerous scandals, which surprisingly has not hurt the party yet. But it will not necessarily continue. It is possible that right-wing populists will enter the parliament, but it is not a law of nature. The results of the elections cannot be replaced by rating surveys. It is crucial whether other parties will find a right way to deal with AfD, or it would look at it like a rabbit on a boa. When Angela Merkel took the post of Chancellor of Germany for the first time, CDU/CSU supporting her gained 35% of votes. Now, according to opinion polls, they have 36%. In my opinion, the apparent weakness of the German Social Democrats is much more problematic. A normal change of the government and the opposition in such circumstances is hardly possible, so Angela Merkel could become the 'eternal chancellor', which will always find a coalition partner if necessary.
- Can we say that the rise of 'right-wing populism' in Europe (France, the Netherlands, Italy and, finally, Brexit) or the election of Donald Trump as US president are general signs of changing political trends or even a possible collapse of the European Union? Are there any measures to counter the Europe-wide shift to the right without the governments becoming more and more right?
- This is a very good question. Increased right-wing populism in Germany and Europe, as well as the election of Donald Trump as the US president is an expression of changes in social trends. It is about a regressive response to the social biases of neoliberal globalization. Traditional social democratic and socialist parties often served to neo-liberalism in the 1990s, and thus drawn away from their native electorate. They formed the economic restructuring without considering the social contract, and have become pioneers of a social decline. This also applies to the German Social Democrats, who, according to many, betrayed the interests of workers and "common people" in the times of the chancellorship of Gerhard Schröder, that is why they won only half the previous votes at the subsequent elections. Modern right-wing populists were able to use the resulting gap. They recently announced that they are neither right nor left, but in favor of 'identity'.
For example, the chairman of the 'National Front' Marine Le Pen stresses that her party has departed from its earlier extreme right policy and today it is a party for all the French, driven by democratic motives. The classic conflict between capital and labor, however, does not disappear because of it, it just painted over ideologically. If you look closely, the understanding of national identity assumes a homogenous national cultural association, in which different cultures and religions cannot count on an equal place. For this reason, almost all modern right-wing populists are advocating against Islam as an alien religion, which supposedly threatens the internal order and the preservation of their culture. An opposition between "us" and "them" is being built to resist anything alien. Of course, in political terms it is definitely the right range, and it is even easier to play on this contrast because the neo-liberal globalization promotes free trade, open borders and multiculturalism. Modern right xenophobic respond it by a priority of the 'national', that is, using Trump's words: «Amerika First».
But the decisive factor is not the cosmopolitan cultural form of globalization, but its neoliberal economic base. That is a key to a successful fight against modern right-wing populism. First of all, the left parties must politically re-regulate and socially calm down freed political forces. They should convincingly return to protection of the interests of socially disadvantaged and people living in difficult conditions, which, alas, there are too many. In this case, right-wing populists in Europe and in other parts of the world would quickly have a serious problem.