Economics and politics - comment and analysis
6. September 2016 I Heiner Flassbeck I Countries and Regions, Europe, General, General Politics

The beacon of Schwerin and the worldview of the losers. On the elections in Mecklenburg-Pomerania and the rise of the AfD

Last night, one could once again observe senior politicians, opinion-makers and journalists beat around the bush for many hours because in their world view something completely inexplicable had happened. They no longer understand that the only reason why the event in question is so inexplicable is that their view of the world is so completely distorted. What is more, they are trying to make the population accept their absurd worldview.

The extreme right Alternative fürDeutschland (AfD) received more than 21 per cent of the votes that were cast in the small, north-eastern state of Mecklenburg-Pomerania, with its 1.6 million inhabitants. With a voter turnout of 60 per cent, this comes to about 12 percent of the population which has the right to vote – not 20 per cent, as the acting prime minister repeatedly said on television last night.

What most upsets the ‘official institutions’ is that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU, Merkel’s party) loses 4 per cent of the vote compared to the last election and is now, with 20 per cent, behind the AfD. However, the social democrats (SPD) and the left wing party Die Linke lost even more: they each lose 5 per cent of the vote compared to the election of 2011. The Greens and the liberal-conservative Free Democratic Party (FDP) will have no a representation in the new parliament, as they fall below the 5 per cent threshold. This is a major setback for the Greens, which has been trying hard to present itself as a party that is ready for government.

The AfD once again booked a great success because the entire constellation of problems, from which it flushed upwards, remains and nothing changes. There is, first and foremost, Europe, although it is truly unbelievable that (as far as I have heard anyway) this word did not fall once during the many hours long television coverage that dealt with the election. Needless to say, Europe, and in particular the failure of the German government and other governments to solve the euro crisis, continues to be a gift of the gods for the extreme nationalists.

But then, who should people choose vote for when virtually all parties never stop telling the population that Germany has done everything right and that all the others are the real sinners? Who should people vote for when almost every day – without ever being contradicted by any of the mainstream politicians – they are being told by ‘experts’ that the German taxpayer will sooner or later be asked for a big sacrifice because southern Europe is a bottomless pit? Who should people elect when mainstream politicians and the media tell them, day after day, that everything is going tremendously well in Germany when it is very easy to see from their stagnating wages and receding prosperity that it is the millionaires in the country which are doing tremendously well, but not them?

And then there is the issue of the refugees. This question has been beaten to death by the media and is now being handled by politicians with a degree of irrationality that is no longer to be believed. It is possible to take up one million of refugees and to provide reasonably well for them. It is, however, only possible to do so without creating severe political consequences of the sort we now see in Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Pomerania’s capital, if the political system is putting money on the table. This funding has to serve two purposes. On the one hand, it must be ensured that asylum seekers can be absorbed rapidly into the labour market and, on the other hand, the German population has to see that the dynamics of the economy are big enough to offer them new opportunities. In Berlin, the ruling coalition has failed on both counts. They have been negligent. That Sigmar Gabriel now admits that this is indeed true, but that he still does not draw proper conclusions is ridiculous.


Picture 1: Manifestation of the AfD in Schwerin. The text reads: Borders necessary! Secure borders for a secure future (Source: Google Images).  

Instead of acting sensibly, German politicians have wrestled for months with the question of whether there should be a ‘ceiling’ for asylum seekers. Instead of investing funds, they basked in the glow of the government surplus, which is the most senseless achievement since the worship of the golden calf. Instead of showing human understanding to those who have landed on our shores from a completely different culture, the politicians have made the burqa into the central object of political debate, although they all are happy enough if heavily veiled women from the rich oil states spend money in expensive German shops. Worst of all, instead of trying to improve the conditions in the home countries of the potential refugees, the focus lies on symbolic policies, leaving it to the international organisations to repeat the same mistakes for forty years in a row (see here for an example).

Indeed, who should people, who have been left out or left behind by of the traditional party system and have to deal with problems of the world which look incomprehensible to them, vote for? The answer is simple: they will vote for a party, which pretends to have a very simple, a very clear answer. It is quite a German recipe. It has been going on for hundreds of years already: let’s isolate ourselves and turn our back to the foreigners who seem to upset our own little world. The mainstream parties cannot really hold it against the AfD that its revindications are based, first and foremost, on the denial of the German failure in the European Monetary union and the preaching of harsh neoliberalism, when they themselves refuse to come to terms with the catastrophe of German economic governance and also proclaim that there is no alternative to neoliberalism.      germany-map

Figure 1: The rise of the AfD in regional elections (Source: Regional governments and ARD). 

One can already guess what will happen next: from tomorrow onwards, everything will continue as before. There will be a grand coalition in Berlin and in Schwerin. No sensible discussion about the overall economic situation will take place. No one will discuss the government budget, the need for public investment or the situation of the poorest and the unemployed in the Europe. And after the next election in two weeks from now in Berlin, the mainstream will whine again for at least a day that no medicine can be found against the poison of the AfD.