As international citizens, we have a responsibility to be informed on current events the world over, and the German election was a momentous event for politics in the EU. As a disclaimer, I’m not relating my views on these events, just summarizing commentary that I’ve read on the subject.
To begin, let’s look at a general overview of German politics. Germany is generally moderate to liberal on the political spectrum, and no far-right groups, as they are called in the US, have succeeded in German elections since World War 2. That is, until approximately 2 months ago, when Alternative for Deutschland (Afd) succeeded in gaining representation in the German political system. Having covered the basics, let’s look at some of the more detailed background information of German politics.
German Politics, especially in comparison to many other Western, are considered to be fairly stable and centrist. Germany’s role in keeping the Euro strong is a clear example of its stability and influence in the EU. In spite of this, recent events, most notably the immigration crisis caused by Syrian refugees in 2016, have created some disorder and dissatisfaction among some among the German population. In 2016, Prime Minister Angela Merkel signed a law allowing up to 1.3 million primarily Islamic immigrants from Syria into Germany (1). The Afd has used this event as a rallying cry, asserting, among other things, that Germany is no place for Islam. Some consider it to be the parallel of the populist Trump movement that occurred in the U.S. in the 2016 election. The Afd is still a minority, only winning approximately 13% of the popular vote in Germany. Nevertheless, this is a dramatic increase in popularity for the party, and shows that the political landscape may be changing in Germany.
So what led to the Afd’s sudden rise in popularity? To begin, I’ll cite a graph, presented in an exhibition on immigration in Germany in Kaufmann Hall at OU, relating the number of asylum seekers entering Germany for the past 4 years. From 2013-2016, the number of asylum-seekers entering Germany each year expanded from 127,023 in 2013 to 745,545 in 2016 (2). This serves to highlight the dramatic increase into Germany over those four years. While the immigration crisis may have been the catalyst for the Afd’s success, it does not explain everything, as John Burn-Murdoch, a contributor to the publication the Financial Times, points out in his article, “Germany’s Election and the Trouble with Correlation.” Interestingly enough, most of the common markers of political views such as religious views, race, age, etc. have no strong correlations with the Afd’s success. Although Burn-Murdoch points out there are some slim relationships, none can account for Afd’s success. In manipulating statistics, Murdoch notes that the success of Afd is rooted in the region that was East Germany. In what was East Germany, only 3% of the population is first or second generation immigrants, whereas in what was West Germany, nearly 20% of the population is first or second generation immigrants. Murdoch asserts that this cultural discrepancy, the difference in migrant population, is largely responsible for Afd’s success in the most recent election. The reason, he hypothesizes, is that since more individuals in what was West Germany have been exposed to more cultures, they are more accepting of those whose background is different than their own. In his own words, “as exposure to people from other cultures increases, prejudices diminish.” (3)
1. From Reuters, “Germany’s far-right AfD has more immigrant MP’s than Merkel’s conservatives.”
2. Statistics from the Federal Minister of the Interior of Germany.
3. Murdoch, John — “Germany’s Election and the Trouble with Correlation.”