While most of the world’s attention remains fixed on the political ongoings in the United States, wondering what calamity President Trump will instigate next, back on our side of the pond the government of Europe’s most powerful country rests in an atmosphere of uncertainty. After the German elections in September Angela Merkel, Chancellor and leading representative of Germany on the world stage since 2005, faced the biggest challenge to her leadership yet when the emerging far right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 13% of the vote and became the third largest party in the Bundestag. Her own party, the Christian Democratic Union, were able to hold onto their majority, but have suffered disappointment in the past month as coalition talks with the liberal party and the Greens have broken down. If current negotiations with the Social Democrats fail, then she may be forced to form a minority government.
This year the CDU suffered their worst election result since 1949, receiving only 33% of the vote. Although it seems likely that Merkel will continue to hold onto power, the rise to prominence of a party such as the AfD is undoubtedly a cause for concern. Originally founded as an anti-euro party, in recent months they have been increasingly targeting immigration and the Islamic presence in Europe as part of a wave of nationalistic rhetoric currently sweeping the continent. Similar to the National Front in France or the Austrian Freedom Party, their protests against the ‘Islamisation of the West’ has been welcomed by those in fear of the ever-changing multicultural landscape of Europe. Björn Höcke, leader of the AfD in the east German state of Thuringia has been quoted as saying of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin: “We Germans are the only nation in the world to have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital”. The popularisation of such nationalist sentiments seems even more disturbing when considering that this is a country in which the horrors of Nazism echo in its living memory.
While the Socialist Democrats have voted to allow leader Martin Schulz to begin talks with Merkel, it could be as late as February or March before any kind of agreement is reached. This continuation of their previous coalition was initially ruled out by Schulz, however the combination of their poor electoral performance and the threat from ever expanding extremist parties may mean he has little choice if he wants to prevent a lurch to the right in parliament.
By Cathy Meyer-Funnell
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