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.
The Inside Track
Closet refugee fans. A study by a Slovak university reveals that anti-migrant Slovaks are actually in favor of accepting refugees.
Putting the patriotic back in dairy. Spain has notified the European Commission that it will create a new law to include the origin of milk on the label of milk and dairy products, adding fuel to the gastro-nationalism debate.
A feta-compli. A Greek minister has warned China to cancel fake trademarks of two Greek products – including feta cheese – in order for a pending deal with Brussels on geographical indications to get signed.
Trans-Europe Express, Part II. The Commission is satisfied with the recent cooperation between Greece and Bulgaria on a regional railway project and is ready to look into possible financial support, an EU spokesperson told EURACTIV.com
Be reasonable. Polish judges opposing the justice reforms started by the country’s far-right PiS government have requested a solution to the crisis without EU intervention.
Touchy subject. The outcome of the German elections will shape the future of the EU. What do German associations, unions and civil society organisations demand from the future government with regards to EU financial, social and trade policies? EURACTIV Germany reports.
Send them a gift. When countries in Central and Eastern Europe joined the EU, their expectations were high. Above all, they thought that they would quickly reach a Western standard living, Irah Kučerová told EURACTIV Czech Republic.
The only news is good. One of Serbia’s most important and popular local weeklies, Vranje’s Novine Vranjske, was shut down after management failed to settle its taxes. EURACTIV.rs reports.