Trans-Europe Express: Germany’s tolerance deficit

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.

Asked to explain the AfD’s surge in the polls, Merkel offered a strictly economic analysis. The problem was that she was wrong.

“My answer is clear: to solve people’s problems,” the German chancellor told Deutsche Welle. “The worries they have, having their own jobs, as well as decent schools and doctors, to really take care of these issues.”

With recent surveys forecasting the far-right party taking up to 10% of the vote, leaning heavily on working class voters from Merkel’s own eastern part of the country, she couldn’t exactly avoid the topic.

Throughout the election campaign, people from the ex-GDR have named their economic plight as the main reason why they’ll cast their vote for Alternative für Deutschland.

The irony is that little of the AfD’s program is dedicated to poverty. Originally driven by a Eurosceptic platform dedicated to restoring the Deutschmark and opposing the single market, it remains a typically laissez-faire German party, albeit a nationalist one.

That explains Alternative für Deutschland’s emphasis on Islam. Its intolerance is intended to sidestep Germany’s fundamental economic problems, while still building a constituency based on class issues.

The AfD is co-led by Alice Weidel, a former Goldman Sachs banker based in Switzerland. She should be more divisive among the party’s supporters than she actually is.

Alternative für Deutschland get around such conundrums by singling out migrants and Muslims as sources of inequality, instead of banks.

The blame game works because immigrants tend to be the economically weakest members of German society.

The problem is that Germany’s political echelon can’t seem to figure out how to manage such conflicts. Promising to fix inequality helps, but that doesn’t prevent the phenomenon of scapegoating.

It’s not just taking the AfD to task and exposing the lies behind their Islamophobia that’s required.

German news media has often highlighted the Islam-terrorism connection, as though the two were somehow synonymous.

In a country with nearly 4.7 million Muslims, that conflation has helped to create the framework of prejudice that the AfD started out from.

And it’s not just Muslims that the media have slighted.

During the height of the Greek crisis, it was not uncommon to encounter front-page caricatures of former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, for example, as a typical schemer from Europe’s south.

The problem is a greater tendency to rank ethnic groups. Until the chancellor directly addresses such issues, better economic planning will only do so much. Germans must be taught to be more tolerant, too.


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