The land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern can be described as poor, sparsely populated, even marginal. Here, the nationalists of Alternative for Germany celebrated the “historic passing” over Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in her own constituency. In practice, there are no consequences for this loss.
But the symbolic effects are considerable. As has happened in other regions that have experienced the impetuous advance of AfD, it does not open any actual prospects of government. And even fewer will open up nationwide. The major parties lose popularity in each election.
But not to the point of convincing most Germans to abandon the prudent conservatism that has gathered them under the Social Democratic and Christian Democratic flags since the war. The Party of Frauke Petry, which is radicalized and keeps engulfing ever wider sectors of the extreme right, in spite of its name, is just a protest party and not a feasible alternative.
However, its threat is real and must be feared. The successes of AfD are indeed a formidable argument in the hands of those who, even within the traditional parties, are proposing to move the axis of German politics to the right. Behind the issue of refugees, the most urgent and visible of all, there are, in fact, more decisive policy objectives: the prevalence of the national interests over the European ones, the defense of German competitiveness sacrificing any idea of continental balance, as well as the claims of German workers and state social benefits.
Recently the government announced a backslide against recipients of subsidies, in which it was threatened they will have to pay them back in installments if found guilty of unspecified “antisocial behavior.” The idea of “competition” with immigrants is easily fed by the worsening living conditions of temporary workers and the unemployed. It is expected that after the restriction of refugees allowed into the country, some will attempt to discriminate against European foreigners, based on the model London demanded before Brexit.
The weakest strata of the German population, especially in the east, are living pretty badly. And, though it may seem impossible in today’s world, there are those who still blame refugees and foreigners. It is in these areas that the war among the poor finds the most fertile ground. Merkel has been accused by her internal opponents, and especially by the Bavarian CSU, of “not listening to the people,” thus leaving the field open to Petry’s followers. If the CDU-CSU would accept, at least in part, some of what the nationalists claim, riding the fear they spread, they could easily regain their primacy.
It is precisely this reasoning that is legitimizing and strengthening the xenophobic right in Europe. The latter, when not directly included in the government coalition, got a huge conditioning power by enfranchising or even assuming arguments and impulse. In this sense, the AfD victory in a region that represents only 2 percent of the German population does not have a purely symbolic significance.
The chancellor, despite some cautious, worried reassurance worded in a vaguely self-critical tone, seems determined to keep stock of her admission policy, at least in principle.
But, as long as this policy is not accompanied by visible benefits for the most disadvantaged German citizens, the nationalist protest parties will continue to swell their ranks, at the expense not only of the moderate right, but also the increasingly ghostly social democracy. At this point, it is necessary, and not only in Germany, to resolutely reject the authoritarian and xenophobic discourse that is poisoning the old continent. Reconciling the austerity rules with the European political culture is becoming more and more difficult. Even in the most affluent European countries.