Spain can’t elect a government. Italy’s government is weak and challenged by the populist Five Star Movement. Britain is rushing for the exits. In France the National Front is becoming entrenched as a major force on the political scene. Poland’s ruling party is challenging basic EU norms. Among the big countries of the EU, only Germany has avoided the rise of a radical populist opposition.
This weekend, that appears to have changed. Reuters:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats fell to third place in a state election on Sunday behind the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, TV exit polls showed.
In a stinging defeat for Merkel one year ahead of parliamentary elections, the upstart AfD won 21 percent of the vote in their first election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state by campaigning hard against the chancellor’s policies on refugees, according to an exit poll by the ARD TV network.
The SPD, which has ruled the rural state on the Baltic coast with the CDU as junior coalition partners since 2006, won 30.5 percent of the vote, down from 35.6 percent in the last election in 2011. The CDU won 19 percent, down from 23 percent in 2011, and its worst result ever in the state, the broadcaster said.
This result may not put the AfD in government. If need be, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats may band together with the Greens (who appear to have won 5 percent of the vote) to keep the AfD out.
Still, this strong showing for the AfD will reverberate across Germany and across Europe. It will be taken as a sign everywhere that Angela Merkel’s “welcome” to refugees from Syria and elsewhere carries a heavy electoral cost. It will encourage populist and anti-immigrant parties from Greece to the Netherlands. And it will open the possibility that the Merkel era could be moving toward an end.
It’s also a grim reminder is that the biggest problem Europe faces isn’t the problems that grab the headlines like the euro problem and the migration problem. The biggest problem is that Europe’s institutions and political leaders seem unable to solve any of the problems that assail it. The perception that the establishment is floundering and that the Union has lost its way is steadily gaining ground.
The big winner in this is Vladimir Putin, who will see every vote for AfD (and the far-left Die Linke, coming in at 12.5 percent) as another blow against a weakening EU consensus. Putin wants to see Germany and Brussels fail to make the European Union work, bringing incoherence to European politics and further weakening NATO—an alliance that has taken more hits and lost more ground under President Obama than under any president since Harry Truman got it started.