No "Alternative" for Germany: Political Parties in Crisis Without Bold Reforms

Rise of the radical right ADH and crisis of the so-called established parties, which in the past years traditionally were present in the federal parliament.

On September 18, 2016, in Berlin, the elections to the provincial parliament Landtag will be held, and Angela Merkel's CDU probably will lose a lot of votes, as already happened after elections in various lands. Irritation over the migration policy of the government coalition led to the rise of the "Alternative for Germany" (ADH), a protest party of eurosceptics, which quickly gained popularity and now has a good chance to go to the Bundestag during the general elections in 2017. Vladislav Belov, Head of the Center for German Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, discussed in an interview with the reasons of the "people's parties" crisis in Germany, Merkel's vague prospects and aspirations of the electorate.

"If we assess the elections [in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, which took place on September 4] in the context of the forthcoming elections to the Bundestag, we must say that they confirmed the trend, which appeared in 2013, which means the crisis of the so-called established parties, which in the past years traditionally were present in the federal parliament, and thus formed a kind of systemic structure of the ruling coalition and opposition parties. In recent years, it was the CDU/CSU, the Social Democrats and the parties that are in opposition for many years - "Alliance '90/The Greens" and the Left Party", - Belov said.

At the same time we cannot say that only the CDU loses to ADH, he said. According to Belov, all the established parties lost to ADH. "If we look at the elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, it is not the CDU who lost the most votes. First of all the "Greens" were the losers.". <...> CDU was in fourth place according to lost votes -, "- Belov said.

"The parties are losing not only the electorate - they lose their members. In all four parties the number of members decreased significantly. <...> There is no political drive and political courage, as, for example, leader of the Social Democratic Party Gerhard Schröder had in the beginning of 2000s. In 2003 he suggested "Agenda 2010" project, aimed to a radical change in the labor market. These reforms began working only in 10 years. During this period of time Mr Schröder resigned. But it was he who was the father of the reforms, which today are used by the coalition government, "- Belov reminded.

Reasons for the "people's parties" crisis

Today the cause of the structural parties’ crisis in Germany lies in fear to provide hard reforms, wanting to keep popularity within the electorate. "The electorate never supports the decisions meaning temporary worsening of the situation. Reforms are always associated with a period of uncertainty, risks, possible deterioration of the material status and so on. Tough, bold, not populist solutions are a challenge, which is not always supported by the electorate. The parties are afraid of hard decisions. And the established parties in Germany tend to be in the middle ground where they could score the maximum number of votes ", - Belov said.

Moreover, the established parties have serious internal problem - a problem of generational change, training of the talented reserve. "Take the CDU. Angela Merkel is virtually the only candidate for the post of Chancellor. Will she act as a candidate or not is a secondary issue. There are no bright, charismatic heirs in Angela Merkel's party. Defense Minister Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière are not so charismatic. Young members [of the CDU], for example, Jens Spahn, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Finance, has little experience. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Mrs Gesine Schwan and many others were forced to resign, "- the expert said.

What will Berlin say?

Elections will be held in Berlin on September 18 and they will confirm the trend which has already been clearly defined in the previous ballot. "My estimates are as follows: from 12 to 15% for" Alternative for Germany ". The Social Democrats and the Left Party in Berlin will certainly lose because there is a movement of votes from established parties in favor of ADH ", - Belov said.

According to Belov, the electorate and the so-called non-voters (Nicht-wählers) do not see in traditional parties a political force capable to change their life in accordance with the challenges that Germany faces.

"Naturally, those parties are becoming popular, which offer unconventional protest and other solutions. Such was the Pirate Party of Germany, which proposed the principles of liquid democracy, free Internet content and so on. But due to the fact that it was the party of one slogan (not the complex one), is has gone into oblivion ", - the expert reminded.

No other alternative?

The "Alternative for Germany" is considered an opposition party in all regional parliaments, which has no partners. However, in contrast to the "Pirates" the ADH is not a one-day party. It is a candidate to the established parties group, and it will be the systemic one after entering the Bundestag and passing there several registration periods," - Belov said.

Thus, according to the expert, it is not necessary to evaluate ADH as a party of one slogan. Now at the political arena the "Alternative" is playing one topic - the criticism of migration policy, but the party is ready to play in almost all areas, because it is the party of intellectuals (established by professors and businessmen, intellectual elite of Germany).

"The Party, being right (although I personally believe that it is a radical right-wing), has a very interesting program which affects the foundations of the financial, social, fiscal, agricultural policy, employment, education, infrastructure, transport, environment, data protection, religion (focusing on Islam), principles of direct democracy, European politics and policy toward migration and refugees. This is all that forms the basis for any other party, "- the expert said.

Moreover, the party has charismatic leaders. "Frauke Petry is a very interesting woman who can be a real leader, Jörg Meuthen, leader of the "Alternative for Germany" faction in Baden-Württemberg, Alexander Gauland, vice-chairman of the ADH - all are party organizers, which the CDU misses today. There is only one charismatic heavyweight - Mrs. Merkel, and that is all ", - Belov said.

"Will we get through this?"

According to Belov, the government coalition could be better prepared for the migration crisis, as the first rigid government policy criticisms were pronounced long before the summer of 2015 historic phrase of Mrs. Merkel: «Wir schaffen das» ( «We can handle this"). The first bell sounded back in December 2013, - from the well-known Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West), which subsequently became the backbone for the "Alternative for Germany".

However, the situation is not so hopeless. At least, Angela Merkel thinks that she is still able to play in the field of migration policy. "By the time the elections will be held in other regions, when the election campaign begins, the National Plan for the integration of refugees and migrants will begin to work. It was adopted at the end of May. Its motto is "To assist and demand". This plan, born in harsh disputes between all members of the government coalition, caused a mixed reaction in the expert community. In my opinion, it is a complex, very interesting project suitable for Russia and other countries. It enables the integration of all refugees, eligible to receive the status of a gradual entry into the socio-political and socio-economic spheres of Germany together with strict requirements for those who do not want to do it: the denial or withdrawal of refugee status and expulsion from the country ", - Belov reminded.

"This plan, in my opinion, will begin to work before 2017. And gradually the electorate will see that Angela Merkel's promises, so annoying today for all German society (I emphasize – for all the society) is working ", - Belov said.

Bundestag Elections – 2017

According to Belov's forecast, in 2017 the Bundestag will have six parties - the CDU/CSU, the Social Democrats, "Alliance '90/The Greens", the Left Party, plus two more: ADH and "Free Democrats". "If nothing scandalous happens, the ADH must score more than 5% in September 2017", - the expert believes.

As to the CDU, the party once again will nominate Angela Merkel as its leader. "Much will depend on her election campaign. In my view, the CDU/CSU would lose a minimal amount of percentage ", - he said.

"The result of this will be a kind of fluidic party system similar to the Austrian version, and it will be very difficult to form this or that coalition. Not casually now the Social Democrats and the CDU/CSU are looking to "greens", considering possible future options for the coalition, "- Belov said.
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