Old difficulties, new challenges

Monday, 2018-09-10 12:19:05
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The immigration crisis is posing new challenges to the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – According to a survey published by Germany’s Sunday newspaper, Bild am Sonntag, on September 9, the voters’ support for the ruling coalition of German Chancellor Angela Merkel fell to a record low. The loss of faith from the voters for the ruling coalition stems from the immigration crisis, a very old issue which is, however, posing new challenges to Merkel and her partners.

The poll, based on the opinions of 2,472 German voters, found that support for the ruling coalition in Germany hit a “comprehensive” low. Accordingly, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU) coalition saw their approval rating fall one percentage point to 29%, lower than the 32.9% rate recorded for the bloc in last September’s federal election. Support for the Social Democrats (SPD), a partner party of Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance, dropped by two percentage points to 17%. Meanwhile, the parties’ combined support of 46% marked an all-time low for the coalition so far.

Germany’s media agencies cited a number of analysts as saying that the reason why the ruling coalition in the country “lost points” among voters was their failure in working out a convincing solution to the “problem of immigration”, which has been faced by Germany and the European Union (EU) for a long period of time. As the largest economy in Europe, Germany plays an important role in the EU’s policy. The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently under intense pressure from inside Germany and the neighbouring countries with regards to the plans to restrict migrants into the country.

Since the economic and migration crisis broke out in Europe nearly a decade ago, Germany has always been the leading country in guiding the EU in dealing with such a “double crisis”. German Chancellor Merkel was once considered a “heroine” for her tolerant policies in receiving immigrants. However, after nearly 10 years of implementation, the EU has almost overcome the economic crisis, but the immigration crisis is still creating “underground waves” in the “old continent”. Many EU member states have not been totally convinced by the Merkel-initiated policies for the immigration issue. For example, the decision to allocate quotas for receiving immigrants has been met with fierce opposition from many countries. The EU also organised dozens of meetings to find a way out for immigration. Most recently, the EU nations discussed plans to build control centres in Europe, in addition to proposing financial support to encourage member countries to voluntarily receive migrants. However, up to now, there has been no comprehensive and effective solutions worked out to help the EU escape the immigration crisis. Lines of refugees are still continuing to pour into European countries.

Inside Germany, the issue of immigration has also created “subterranean waves” and major political pressures, threatening the ruling coalition. A recent knife murder of a German citizen in eastern Germany has sparked violent protests by the far-right. In German politics, deep disagreements with Chancellor Merkel of the CDU party over the refugee policy prompted the Interior Minister and CSU leader, Horst Seehofer, to submit his resignation. Finally, the CDU and CSU leaders also reached an agreement on the immigration policy. Accordingly, Germany will tighten its control of the border and set up transit centres to keep migrants at the German-Austrian border. The move has worked to heal the rift within the ruling coalition, but experts said that it posed a risk of causing a domino effect, causing European countries to close their borders to prevent refugees.

The troubles of the aforementioned immigration issue are posing new challenges to the prestige of the ruling coalition in Germany, and if there are no measures taken to turn the situation and reclaim trust from voters, they will be at risk of losing ground in the future elections. According to Bild am Sonntag’s poll, while the support for the ruling coalition has declined, the approval rating for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) remained unchanged at 15%. In addition, the poll also showed that it is likely that the CSU will lose the majority of votes in the upcoming Bavarian state election in October. The reason is that the reputation of the German interior minister has been seriously affected since the occurrence of a deep disagreement between him and the German Chancellor on refugee policy.

The aforementioned fact indicates that, although the immigration crisis has temporarily subsided in Europe as a whole and in Germany in particular, and has become a very old problem, it is still creating “underground waves” that are causing instability within Germany, thereby putting German Chancellor Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative ruling alliance at the risk of an uncertain future.