Germany. During the year we could see the end of an era. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in October that she will not run as party leader for the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) at the party congress in early December. Then Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was elected new party leader. She was Merkel’s candidate and won against the more conservative Friedrich Merz with 517 votes against 482 for Merz. According to Countryaah.com, Berlin is the capital city of Germany, a country located in Western Europe. Merkel also announced in October that she remained the longest serving as Chancellor until the elections in 2021. Merkel has been CDU leader since 2000 and Chancellor since 2005. Currently, she leads her fourth government (consisting of CDU, CSU and Social Democratic SPD).
It has been a turbulent year for Merkel. The state elections have not directly shown that she is still popular, and the government negotiations after the September 2017 elections dragged on. It was only in March that the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats were able to form a joint government, together with the CDU’s Bavarian sister party CSU. On March 14, Confederation Day elected Angela Merkel as Chancellor with the numbers 364–315. In her new government, Heiko Maas (SPD) became Foreign Minister, Olaf Scholz (SPD) Minister of Finance and Vice Chancellor, Horst Seehofer (CSU) Minister of the Interior and Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) Minister of Defense. In connection with the government negotiations and a postal vote among the SPD’s members in February, Martin Schulz resigned as party leader for the SPD. He was replaced in April by Andrea Nahles, former Minister of Labor and Social Affairs.
At the October state elections in Hesse and Bavaria, the government parties declined sharply, which in all likelihood contributed to Merkel’s decision not to run for the party leadership post.
Compared to the elections in Hesse 2013, both the CDU and the SPD declined significantly, the CDU by 10 percentage points to historically low 28%, the SPD from 30% to 20%. Things went better for the Green Party, which went ahead by 8 percentage points and ended up at about 20%, and the right-wing populist AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), which took up the state parliament for the first time with 12% of the vote.
In the Bavarian state elections, CDU’s sister party CSU lost 12 percentage points compared to 2013, but still managed to become the largest party with just over 35% of the vote. The Greens became the second largest party with 18.5%, followed by right-wing populist AfD (11%) and Social Democratic SPD (10%). The election meant that CSU lost the absolute majority that has been in the state parliament since the 1960s. The AfD’s success meant that it now sat in 15 state parliaments.
In early July, the German Government Coalition agreed on an agreement on the issue of migration. After many trips, the CDU/CSU had agreed to establish transit centers at the border with Austria. The Social Democratic SPD opposed transit centers and managed to persuade the CDU/CSU to instead let the police run the transit process. But the agreement also meant stopping refugees at the German border and speeding up the process of sending back migrants who had previously sought asylum in another EU country. This is according to the so-called Dublin Regulation, which says that if you flee to Europe you should seek asylum in the first safe country to which you come. CSU leader Horst Seehofer had demanded that, directly at border controls, refugees who had already applied for asylum in another EU country should be rejected – he even threatened to crack the government coalition if he did not get his will through, but fell short of Merkel’s pressure and aligned themselves with the joint. The background to the conflict and the agreement was that at the end of June the EU had agreed on a migration agreement which would allow the countries concerned to set up special reception centers for migrants.
At the beginning of August, seven such reception centers were opened for asylum seekers in Bavaria. Here, it is intended that asylum seekers throughout the asylum process should stay in one place. It is hoped that the waiting times will be shortened and that those who get rejected should be expelled sooner. At the same time, it is easier for refugees with a limited residence permit to be able to reunite with their families. If you are denied a residence permit, you should be sent back to your home country.
Germany’s gender equality ombudsman Kristin Rose-Möhring (SPD) proposed in March that the national song “Deutschlandlied” should be gender neutral. Among other things, she wanted “Vaterland” changed to “homeland” and “brotherly” (as in “brotherly with heart and hand”) changed to “brave”. She has not yet received any hearing from the Chancellor.
In May 2018, the neo-Nazi AFD decided to conduct a demonstration in Berlin for its supporters. It seemed neither union movement, left wing nor AFA was fun and therefore organized a counter-demonstration. The most alarming feature of the counter-demonstrations – which ultimately ruined it completely for the Nazis – was that around music clubs also participated with loudspeakers that pumped heavy techno music over the Nazis. In advance, most AFD supporters had decided to stay home – for fear of being bankrupt. Only a few thousand attended. (Thousands from far right and Berlin’s techno scene face off in rival rallies, Guardian 27/5 2018)
After a year without an ambassador, Trump in May hired Richard Grenell as the new ambassador for the United States in Germany. Grenell made a quick remark when, in an interview with the right-wing Breitbart, he stated that he supported right-wing power takeovers in Europe. It was an unheard of diplomatic advocacy that sparked criticism among the parties of the Bundestag. Trump’s relationship with Chancellor Merkel was already poor, and in June the relationship worsened as the United States imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from, among other things. EU. At the end of the month, Trump threatened to impose 30% duty on car imports from Germany, and in July he declared that the EU was the US’s biggest enemy – bigger than Russia and China. (New US ambassador to Germany under four for rightwing support, Guardian 4/6 2018)
In mid-June, Trump came to the aid of the German right wing as he criticized Germany’s open policy towards refugees. The weathered morning air, and the CDU’s Bavarian sister party CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer declared that Germany should no longer accept the large number of refugees. It triggered a political crisis in the government and threatened to bring it down. It was at the same time an excellent example of the right wing’s almost total control over the bourgeois discourse. There was no refugee crisis. Only just over 50,000 refugees had entered the EU during 2018, compared to over 1 million in 2015. The brand tried – in vain – at an EU summit at the end of the month to make the other EU countries comply with the quota system and to establish transit camps. In the south, the CSU decided to impose its own border control on Austria and reject refugees by it. Trump had effectively manipulated the EU to where Merkel was severely weakened, and with her the entire US “main enemy”: the EU. (Angela Merkel has ditched her open-door refugee policy to save her government, Quartz 3/7 2018)
In Chemnitz in former East Germany, a 35-year-old man died in late August during a street fight. An Syrian and an Iraqi man were arrested, charged with manslaughter to death. Nazis in the form of AfD took the opportunity to conduct demonstrations in Chemnitz facing refugees and immigrants, and formed tea teams that hunted refugees and immigrants in the city streets. The activities of the Nazis were condemned by Angela Merkel and the country’s democratic parties. At the beginning of September, anti-racist groups conducted a large concert and demonstration in Chemnitz with the participation of about 50,000 under the slogan: “We are more”. The events nevertheless marked a disturbing escalation of Nazi violence. The same methods that brought Hitler to power in the early 1930s. (Thousands turn out for Chemnitz anti-racism rock concert, Guardian 3/9 2018). The counter-demonstration against AfD was followed up in mid-October, with 240,000 demonstrating against Nazism and xenophobia. While the Nazis’ assaults received wide coverage in the Danish media, the extensive counter-demonstrations were not covered. (German march against far right draws huge crowds in Berlin, Guardian 14/10 2018)
Authorities unveiled a neo-Nazi cell in Frankfurt in December. The cell consisted of 4 men and 1 woman, among others. in a letter to German-Turkish lawyer Seda Basay-Yildiz had threatened to kill her daughter if she did not leave Germany. The Nazis had signed with NSU 2.0. A reference to the Nazi cell that in 2000-07 had murdered 10 people, the 9 with immigrant background. Basay-Yildiz had represented several of the victims of the Nazi terror in the case that ended in July in sentencing in July by its only surviving member, Beate Zschäpe. Then, in August, the Nazis sought Basay-Yildiz’s information and faxed her the death threat. Basay-Yildiz was then able to state that German police had not immediately done anything to locate the senders. German police have a long tradition of Nazi sympathies. In September, the country’s intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maaßen had to resign after he claimed that videos showing right-wing violence in Chemnitz were false. (Five German police suspended over neo-Nazi threat to lawyer, Guardian 17/12 2018)
At a CDU national convention in December, Angela Merkel’s replacement was appointed. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer got 517 votes while her counterpart Friedrich Merz got 482. Karrenbauer was in 2011-18 Prime Minister of Saarland. In February 2018, she was elected Secretary-General of the CDU.