Trans-Europe Express: Germany is really two countries

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

Maybe revenge is best served cold. With 12.5% of the national vote, a largely East German constituency had put the first extreme right party into the Bundestag since 1945.

It didn’t have to be this way. Former citizens of the GDR could very well have given the leftwing Die Linke a larger mandate.

But, as a former official involved in the dismantling of the communist system during the 1990s told, Die Linke already got their vote and didn’t do enough with it.

“Die Linke are no different than the AfD. Their problem is one of identity. They’re still too close to the SED (Socialist Unity Party). People haven’t forgotten how hard life was then.”

Though he declined to explain why, his emphasis on memory was paramount. German reunification has not brought the benefits that were hoped for.

It certainly brought democracy and a more just legal system with it. But its economic consequences, particularly the neoliberal reforms that came with it, were an entirely different matter.

Mass unemployment and depopulation remain pressing problems, despite the fact that Germany’s economy is the strongest in Europe and everyone, it seems, wants to move there.

Particularly Muslims, from the Middle East, and North Africa.

And yet since Sunday’s poll, both the German and international press have not stopped banging on that Chancellor Merkel and her allies didn’t take the immigration issue seriously enough.

They were so out of touch with what Germans really think and feel about culture and identity, that they ‘lost’ the election over it ideologically.

Indeed, the chancellor’s decision to let in 1.5 million largely Muslim migrants is now deemed to have been a mistake, as it damaged German democracy and the credibility of its political echelon.

Such presuppositions are becoming common sense, moving Europe further to the right, legitimating populism, and parties like Alternative für Deutschland, as the zeitgeist.

This is the tragedy of the German election’s results. The way they’re being interpreted conforms with a far-right point of view, even with nominally centrist media.

Culture wars are like that. You can come in third place, as the AfD did (an important fact to remember), but foster a consensus that feels like you’re first.

That’s what needs to be fought now, because even though the AfD’s entry into the Bundestag is not good, the next elections could bring it far closer to actual power, given successes like this.

The first place to start is for the next governing coalition, and democratic parties in the opposition, to start creating a different consensus. And this has to happen immediately.

Part of that will involve addressing the needs of Germans who remained in the former GDR states, which will involve coming to terms with the fact that their politics are more like Poland and Hungary than the Bundesrepublik.

Particularly in matters concerning diversity and democracy.

East Germans turned on refugees not because of their religion and social mores, but because they too feel like refugees.

The Inside Track

Don’t believe the hype. If Russia’s gas supply to Europe is to remain reliable, the Ukrainian system must run parallel to Nord Stream 2, Oleksandr Sukhodolia told EURACTIV Slovakia.

Medieval social mores. A Russian activist has urged the European Union to press Moscow to investigate the alleged murder, torture and abuse of gay men in Chechnya.

Tax havens for equal rights. This week thousands of Irish people in cities all over the world, including Brussels, are protesting in solidarity with tens of thousands marching in Dublin for access to abortion, writes John Hyland.

Neoliberalism fosters intolerance. In the last year, increased political attacks on the safety and dignity of women, within the EU and beyond, have made human rights a hot topic in the European public sphere, writes Caroline Hickson.

Soon to unify with Scotland. Catalonia has told Madrid it is willing to consider proposals to avert a break-up of Spain but is otherwise set to proclaim independence if the ‘Yes’ camp wins in Sunday’s referendum, Raül Romeva, a member of the Catalan government, said on Thursday.

Populist party cleanser. The European Commission wants internet platforms to take down illegal posts faster, and is considering new legislation as one way to satisfy pressure from countries like Germany and France.

Balkan coffee is better. In assessing the relocation of the EU drugs agency EMA, old member states have a “moral and political obligation” to prioritise candidate countries that do not currently host another EU agency, Croatia’s health minister told

Hungary 1, Brussels 0. The Commission made no proposals to continue with the divisive mandatory refugee relocation system this week and instead focused on resettlement, which means taking candidate refugees from outside the EU, on a non-mandatory basis.

Warsaw on the up and up, too. Poland’s conservative government has little willingness to compromise on its controversial judiciary reform, which has had the Commission up in arms and threatening possible sanctions, despite encouraging signals from Brussels this week based on a new proposal from the country’s president.

Merkel chooses Russia. Climate and energy policy could emerge as a make-or-break topic in Germany’s coalition negotiations, after Sunday’s election result put Angela Merkel’s Conservatives on a path to forming a government with the Liberal and Green parties.

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