Germany at risk


THESE are suddenly dangerous times for Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel has failed to persuade one of her three preferred partners to enter into a coalition government, following September election.

Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU party grouping was not in doubt. She had been in talks with the Green party and the free-market liberal FDP, a frequent junior partner in past coalition governments, which are the rule in Germany thanks to its proportional representation voting system. Though the Greens’ agenda is seen by many Germans as too radical, it was not the environmentalist party that proved the collapse of four weeks’ negotiations to form a new government. That role went to the FDP whose leader Christian Lindner walked away from the talks on Sunday night saying that there was “no basis of trust”.

Merkel has been forced to tell the German president that she cannot form a government. She has the options of either trying to govern with a minority or accepting that there must be another general election. Neither is appetizing. A minority government would be open to destruction on key votes. To avoid such a disaster, Merkel would need to steer a cautious course which avoided any big and controversial decisions. For the Iron Chancellor, Germany’s longest-serving post-war leader, to have her government’s hands tied in such a way would diminish the country’s clout in Europe and just as crucially undermine her strong and principled approach to accepting largely Muslim refugees.

Yet going to the country again would also be a highly dangerous. The reason she is facing this crisis is in large measure because of the strong showing last September by the racist and Islamophobic AfD (Alternative for Germany) party which came from nowhere to win 94 seats in the 709 seat federal parliament. A new vote would allow the AfD bigots to repeat their siren calls, not only to stop Muslim immigrants but to throw out every one of those who have already found a generous refuge in Merkel’s Germany.

Every crime committed by a Muslim is trumpeted by these neo-Nazis as proof positive that Germany needs to be “cleansed” of its refugees. It does not matter that several of these apparent outrages have proven to be completely false. One, alleging the rape of a German girl by a Syrian, turned out to be a complete fabrication which originated in Russia. But the debate is tragically moving away from facts to emotions. Ordinary Germans are understandably fearful of terrorists and of crime. They are not listening to Muslim refugee community leaders who are going out of their way to condemn any disgusting abuse of Merkel and Germany’s remarkable hospitality.

Germany has been here before, in the 1930s, except that last time the targets of race hatred were the Jews not Muslims. In 1933 the Nazi party won a general election, Hitler became chancellor and immediately set about dismantling the democratic institutions of the Weimar Republic.

Among other demands, the FDP leader wanted to stop Merkel from allowing the relatives of refugees to come and join them in Germany. As he quit the talks he pontificated: “It is better not to rule than to rule falsely. Goodbye”. In such dangerous times, with the neo-Nazis at the gates, it is surely more responsible to rule than to walk away.