A Beacon of Justice, Security and Rule of Law: German Chancellor Angela Merkel

September 7, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

Frank Augstein/AP

 

By

Cynthia M. Lardner

German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel is widely viewed as the most powerful woman not only in the EU but in the world. Today, Ms. Merkel is confronted with widespread criticism primarily from fringe groups in Germany threatening Germany’s long-standing status as being a leader in justice, security and adherence to Rule of Law.

Ms. Merkel, who has served as Germany’s Chancellor since 2000 and is a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is not only up for reelection in September 2017 but there are a number of key state elections coming up. Russia’s propaganda campaign against the CDU, as well as the Christian Social Union (CSU), Germany’s controlling party, is well underway.

 

 

Weaponising German Elections

 

“Russia is starting to weaponize electoral processes in Europe,” stated Joerg Forbrig, senior program director of the U.S. German Marshall Fund in Berlin.

“Europe when united is a problem for them [the Russians]. It doesn’t work when the whole of Europe joins together,” stated Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize Russian Scholar, Director of the Transitions Forum at the Legatum Institute, and an adjunct fellow of the Center for European Policy Analysis. Applebaum added that by causing destabilization, Mr. Putin undermines the EU, which represents democracy, is based on Rule of Law, and is ideologically different from Russia.

What better place to strike than Germany, which since World War II, has been the EU leader in justice, security and adherence to Rule of Law. Today, with Ms. Merkel at the helm, that tradition has continued.

“The underlying logic is that when you discredit Chancellor Merkel and Germany, you also weaken Europe,” stated Juergen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman in the Bundestag for the CDU/CSU alliance.

Mr. Putin’s aspirations in Germany extend well beyond meddling in elections to being imperialistic and expansionist. Germany is especially important to Mr. Putin both historically and based on its location. Germany is a neighbour to countries between its borders and Russia that are largely sympathetic to Mr. Putin.

Mr. Putin’s Eastern European supporters include Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Slovakia’s Robert Fico, Czech Republic President Miloš Zeman, and Serbian Prime Minister Alexsandar Vucic. These countries have gone beyond indifference when it comes to the refugee crises, the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Mr. Orban and Mr. Fico, have exacerbated the immigrant crises by speaking of a need to defend the “Christian culture” against Muslims and foreigners.

This is consistent with a recent Pew survey, which found that negative views of Mr. Putin were held by three-quarters or more of western, not Eastern, Europeans, North Americans, and Australians (81%), and a majority in the Middle East. The most negative responses came from Spain (92%), Poland (87%), France (85%) and Ukraine (84%). Only three countries – Russia (88%), Vietnam (70%) and China (54%) –gave Mr. Putin an approval rating exceeding 50%.

 

 

Chancellor Merkel and the Refugee Crisis

 

It is the refugee crises which has been most damaging to Ms. Merkel. Merkel has welcomed over 1.1 million refugees to Germany. With 16,000 refugees having this far arrived every month in 2016, officials are bracing for a total of 300,000 refugees to arrive in Germany by year end. That number is dependent upon the deal Ms. Merkel negotiated between Turkey and the EU, which is on the brinks of falling apart, creating the possibility that Turkey will allow immigrants to flood into the EU.

Despite over-burgeoning the German immigration system, Ms. Merkel’s slogan has been “Wir schaffen es” or “We can do it.” On July 28th, Ms. Merkel confirmed the continuation of Germany’s open-door migration stance, stating, “We decided to fulfill our humanitarian tasks. Refusing humanitarian support would be something I would not want to do and I would not recommend this to Germany…. Anxiety and fear cannot guide our political decisions.” She added, “Let me be clear, we are at war with Islamic State; we are not at war with Islam.”

 

 

 

Previously Ms. Merkel had stated, “The question is not whether we are able to change but whether we are changing fast enough… When it comes to human dignity, we cannot make compromises.”

“Merkel was “courageous” in her response to Europe’s refugee crisis and highlighted the importance of the U.S.’ relationship with Europe’s largest economy… Germany remains one of America’s closest and strongest allies – an indispensable partner not only for our own security and those of our NATO allies, but also for the security, the prosperity and the dignity of people across the whole world,” stated President Barack Obama prior to an April 24, 2016 meeting with Ms. Merkel.

 

Ms. Merkel and President Barack Obama – photo Alexander Koerner

 

 

In recent months, Ms. Merkel’s humanitarian and democratic values have not served her well with her constituency. In July, Ms. Merkel’s approval rating dropped from 59% in June to 47% in July. In addition, two-thirds of the Germans polled are opposed to her open door policy. A July 11, 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 61% of Germans believe the recent influx of refugees will “increase the likelihood of terrorism in our country.” The survey also found that 61% of Germans believe Muslims in their country “want to be distinct from the larger society.”

The drop in approval ratings coincides with four over-publicized 2016 attacks. In July 2016 there were two attacks by refugees on German nationals with the only fatalities being the terrorists themselves. There were also two attacks in February and July but they were committed by German nationals.

In a break from the CDU party line, Berlin CDU Senator Frank Henkel, on July 25th, conceded that, “No one should delude themselves: We obviously have imported some brutal people who are capable of committing barbaric crimes in our country. We have to say this clearly and without taboos. This also means that we must deal aggressively with Islamism. If we do not, we risk that German politics will be perceived as being detached from reality.”

The drop in overall approval, including within the CDU, has given rise to another political party in German, The Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), linked to Mr. Putin and widely viewed by mainstream Germans as neo-Nazi.  Additionally, there is the the Patriotic Europeans Against The Islamification of the Continent (PEGIDA), also labeled Neo-Nazi. Both groups are gaining momentum against both the CDU and CSU.

 

 

The Alternative for Deutschland

 

A demonstrator carries a flag reading ‘Islam, no thanks’ during an AfD rally against a planned mosque in Erfurt, Germany, May 18, 2016. Jens Meyer/AP

 

 

As of September 4, 2015 the AfD, which ran against Merkel’s party on an anti-immigration platform, had secured representation in nine out of 16 German state parliaments. Nationally, the AfD is polling at around 12 percent. In Berlin AfD support is approximately 14 percent.

 

Dresden AfD Protesters

 

 

According to Alina Polyakova at the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, the AfD which is headed by Frauke Petry and Jörg Meuthen, supports Mr. Putin, and receives Russian funding.

The AfD was originally founded in 2013 to oppose German-backed bailouts for poorer southern European countries. On the heels of Brexit, as many countries are evaluating their commitment to the EU, Mr. Meuthen reiterated the AfD’s position that the Euro should be abolished as a currency. But, it was in May 2016 that the AfD adopted an anti-Islam policy.

On August 19 2016 the AfD announced that the its youth wing had linked up with the youth wing of Mr. Putin’s United Russia party, the Young Guard of United Russia.

The AfD’s growth is troubling in a country where 10-15% of all Germans support Mr. Putin who in 2014 stated, “I expect that the citizens of Germany will also support the aspiration of the Russians, of historical Russia, to restore unity.”

This is quite troubling when read in context with Russia’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov’s March 2016 statement that,  “During at least the past two centuries any attempts to unite Europe without Russia and against it have inevitably led to grim tragedies, the consequences of which were always overcome with the decisive participation of our country.”

 

 

The Lisa Affair  

                       

The Kremlin has been no holds barred when it comes to meddling in German politics. Most prominently is the “Lisa Affair”. A 13-year-old ethnic Russian girl and German model Gina-Lisa Lohfink claimed she had been raped by two immigrants in Germany. The allegations were eventually determined to be false but not before the precipitating widespread protests spearheaded by the AfD, and adversely impacting Germany’s March 2016 regional elections in which Ms. Merkel’s party suffered stinging losses.

German officials are confident that the alleged rape was created by Mr. Putin’s propaganda machine. Mr. Lavrov used the fictional event to terminate Russian diplomatic relations with Germany under the guise that Germany had failed to protect an ethnic Russian.

“The Lisa Affair was a real eye-opener,” stated Forbig.

Germany already has a special unit tasked with countering Russian disinformation and it works on the assumption that Putin’s goal is to topple EU-friendly governments and replace them with pro-Russia parties, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. The EU assembled a similar task force this past March charged with the “correction and fact-checking of misinformation” and to “develop an EU narrative through key messages, articles, op-eds, factsheets, infographics, including material in Russian language”.

 

 

Patriotic Europeans Against The Islamification of the Continent

 

Trouble for Ms. Merkel’s CDU party is also brewing in Saxony-Anhalt, a poor state notorious for being the most rebellious of the German states. There, the CDU is clinging to a narrow five percent margin.

Noted for inciting racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, the PEGIDA is a movement started in Dresden that has been demonstrating on Mondays since 1989 in Saxony, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin. The PEGIDA adopted the “We are the people” chant in these marches. Of course, there are always massive counter-marches, especially in Berlin. The PEGIDA’s organizers have been called “far-right extremists and demagogues” by German authorities.

On October 1, 2015 10,000 PEGIDA supporters marched through Dresden protesting Ms. Merkel’s plan to establish an additional 100,000 places in refugee reception centers in the EU and the Balkans. Protesters carried a placard depicting Ms. Merkel wearing a hijab. From October 2015 through the date of this rally the number of PEGIDA supporters skyrocketed from a mere 350 to over 17,500 people.

 

Supporters of the anti-immigration rightwing movement PEGIDA gather during their weekly demonstration in Dresden, Germany October 26, 2015. Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

 

 

Just weeks prior, the PEGIDA issued a 10-point-program demanding stopping the influx of asylum seekers, adopting a German asylum emergency law, suspending the Schengen treaty, imposing stricter border controls and exiting the EU if the German government fails to adopt its program.

In response to government threats to ban the PEGIDA, on July 18 2016 the PEGIDA announced the creation of a new political party, the Popular Party for Freedom and Direct Democracy (FDDV). Lutz Bachmann, the founder and the leader of the PEGIDA, stated the FDDV supports the AfD in the upcoming elections and “shall only field candidates in a limited number of constituencies.”

When German President Joachim Gauck made a late June 2016 visit to Sebnitz, in Saxony, the PEGIDA protesters taunted him with shouts that he was a “traitor to the people” and “politically pathetic”.

On August 1, 2016 2300-2900 people protested in Dresden at an anti-immigration and anti-Islamism PEGIDA rally. On the main stage, the slogan “Stop the Islamization of Europe!” was prominently displayed. One of the speakers, blaming Ms. Merkel for the recent attacks by refugees, proclaimed that, “Islamist terror has come to western Germany, particularly to Bavaria, inciting chanting by the protesters that – “We are the people!” and “Merkel must go!”. Banners and placards reading “No more solidarity – it is Bullsh*t!”; “Kick throat cutting terrorists and Islamist crowd out of Germany!”; and “No mosques!” were waved by protesters. Several demonstrators were observed wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan “Rapefugees are not welcome!”

On August 17, 2016 Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel made a campaign stop in Salzgitter, in Lower Saxony. Based on his support of Ms. Merkel’s open-borders position, Mr. Gabriel has become a hate figure for Germany’s far right. He was met by twenty men wearing masks taunting him with hate slogans. While Mr. Gabriel initially “flipped off” the protesters, he quickly recovered his composure inviting the protesters to have a constructive discussion with him, which they declined.

 

 

The Christian Social Union

                               

The Christian Social Union has been the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria. They are not traditional rivals, but “fraction” friends. On July 29, 2016, Thomas Jahn, CSU Vice chairman, lambasted Merkel’s open-door migration policy, stating, “We need to control our borders. That is the most important thing at the moment. And we need to send the dangerous people with Islamist ideology back to the countries outside Europe and the European Union.”

His sentiments were echoed on July 30, 2016 by Jens Spahn, the CSU MP for Steinfurt and Borken and deputy finance minister, who stated, “My impression is that we all underestimated a year ago what was in store for us with this big refugee and migration movement. Integration is a Herculean task that does not end with a three-week language course.”

 

Jens Spahn at a YouGov debate on Brexit in Berlin – Photo Sean Gallup

 

 

Mr. Spahn also stated, “Germany may not be the right country for those who want to keep their wife in a burka or niqab, especially now that we have become such a sought-after destination for so many. We need to send some strong signals about what is acceptable and what isn’t.” He also called for a burqa ban: “A ban on the full body veil — that is the niqab and the burka — is overdue…I do not want to have to encounter any burqa in this country. In that sense, I am a burqaphobe.”

Mr. Spahn is expected to be Ms. Merkel’s primary competition in next year’s federal elections. Ms. Merkel, despite all of the discursiveness in Germany, is still expected to prevail in the 2017 election.

 

 

September 4th Mecklenburg-Vorpommern State Elections

 

On September 4th German state elections were held in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Ms. Merkel’s electoral district, a north-eastern region on the Baltic Sea, in which all 71 seats were up for grabs. The latest post-poll projections show the center-left Social Democrats won 30.3 percent of the vote. Traditionally, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has been governed by a corroborative and highly construction coalition between the SPD and CDU, mirroring the power structure at federal level.

 

 

 

Ms. Merkel’s CDU party claimed only 19.3 percent of the vote placing it third place and behind AfD the which garnered 21 percent of the vote. In the days prior to the election, polls had placed the CDU as running neck and neck with the AfD with each party expected to receive 21 percent of the vote.

 

Ms. Merkel spoke on August 16, 2016 in Neustrelitz with and Lorenz Caffier, the Christian Democrats’ top candidate in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

 

 

Speaking on August 16, 2016 Ms. Merkel stated, “But this phenomenon of Islamist terrorism or [Islamic State] is not a phenomenon that came to us because of refugees, but one that we already had.”

While Ms. Merkel has repeatedly stated, “We can do it”, voters who have traditionally voted for her have left the flock. “She says we can do it, but actually we can’t do it and then they call somebody with such views a far-right radical,” said Klaus-Dieter Bauske of Mirow and a CDU member until 2006. “I am not sure whether I will vote this time, but if I do, it will be the AfD.”

Ms. Merkel responded with new initiatives to stop the flow of migrants in order to convince Germany that she is keeping it safe. But, it was too little too late.

Addressing supporters, local AfD leader Leif-Erik Holm boasted that, “Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship today,” even though the AfD gained limited political power as a result of the September 4th election; an election based on an omnificent campaign of xenophobic scaremongering.

Leaders in the CDU party, in post-election comments failed to exhibit solidarity. For instance, CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach stated that the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants without documents had “put the wind in the AfD’s sails.”

In the twelve months preceding the election, Mecklenburg-Western registered not a single high-profile criminal incident, such as terrorist attacks or rape, carried out by asylum seekers, and a decline in theft and violent crime. Conversely, Police in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern recorded seven incidents of attempted arson at refugee shelters in 2015.

The AfD’s propaganda campaign played to the fears of the German people, who have been spooked over what are isolated instances of violence in other states considering the sheer number of refugees involved. The propaganda campaign was indirectly or directly funded by the Russian government. Mr. Putin is expert at weaponising information or misinformation. Consider the failed Dutch referendum as to opening up EU to Ukraine as a trading partner. Its proponents were funded by Russia who is embroiled in conflict at every level with Ukraine.

By analogy, “Those who follow Kremlin propaganda understand that it is not necessary for Putin to have Clinton’s e-mails to cause serious damage to a Clinton presidency…The Kremlin knows that repeated lies are eventually taken as truth, so that an unsourced narrative, repeated, will eventually become the “truth”,” stated Paul Roderick Gregory, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, at Stanford and Cullen Professor of Economics at the University of Houston specializing in Russian politics (emphasis in original).

Take for instance, the post-election comment by Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, who opined that, “People will see this as the start of the ‘Kanzlerdämmerung’ [twilight of the chancellor]. If a lot of CDU members start seeing this defeat as Merkel’s fault, and members of parliament start seeing her as a danger for the party and their own jobs, the whole situation could escalate out of control.” Now, it is an open question. Ms. Merkel has yet to state whether she will stand for a fourth term.

 

 

Up-Coming September 18th State Elections in Berlin

 

In Berlin, the capital and a city-state in its own right, one poll showed the CDU had 18 percent of the vote, down one percentage point from June. In one early August poll, the CDU early was predicted to take 28.3 percent of the vote, the CDU only 23 percent and the AfD not far behind with 14 percent. What is certain is that the AfD is emerging as a legitimate contender.

“The problem is not just 10 AfD members out of 140 representatives in the state parliament. That won’t change the city. A big problem would be when the AfD takes one or two seats at the district level. The district councils have influence over budgets worth millions and hundreds of administrative employees,” stated Berlin mayor Michael Müller.

AfD’s frontrunner Holm has called for stronger ties with Russia and an end to Ms. Merkel’s migration policy. Mr. Holm’s campaign statements includes warnings about the spread of Islam. The AfD has stated a new campaign that proposes the banning of mosques in a country that respects freedom of religion. Yet, the mere suggestion by AfD has created ripples across Europe by other nationalist and xenophobic fringe groups, supporting Mr. Putin, such as France’s National Front, Austria’s Freedom Party and Britain’s Ukip and English Defence League, intensifying the East-West rift among the dominate EU member states.

Gerald Knaus, Founding Chairman of the European Stability Initiative, during an August 30, 2016 talk at The Hague Institute for Global Justice on the EU accession process for the Balkan states, stated that he fears Islamophobia and Eurosceptic views, such as those espoused by the AfD and the PEGIDA are going to spread to those countries striving to come into compliance with the EU’s stringent Rule of Law requirements. If the EU accession process is too prolonged, Mr. Knaus stated that, “The enlargement process fails and new ideas will shape the region.” Mr. Knaus confirmed that the Putin propaganda machine was already hard at work in the Balkans.

 

 

A Bigger Crisis Looming?

 

In an unprecedented move, Germany has advised its citizens to stock up in case a civil defense emergency arises. A 69-page German Interior Ministry document stated that, “an attack on German territory, requiring conventional defence of the nation, is unlikely” but that citizens should stockpile 10 days of food and enough water for five days.

 

 

Conclusion

 

While Ms. Merkel is steadfast as a beacon of justice, security and Rule of Law, the EU, as well as other democratic nations must continue in their support of her fine leadership as without a stable Germany, the security of Europe is at an even greater risk from Russian interference or, worse, aggressive expansionist actions.

 

 

 

 

 

The author would like to thank Patrick Flanagan for his assistance in writing this article.

 

 

The author with United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the inauguration of the new ICC complex on April 19, 2016

Cynthia M. Lardner

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague writing about geopolitics for Tuck Magazine and E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries. A thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

Berlin’s mayor warns of growing AfD support”, August 21, 2016, DW.

Delfs, Arne, and Meyer, Henry, “Putin’s Propaganda Machine Is Meddling With European Elections,” April 20, 2016, Bloomberg.

Ellyatt, Holly, “Special relationship? Is Merkel Obama’s real ally in Europe?” April 15, 2016, CNBC News.

Foster, Peter, “The rise of the far-Right in Europe is not a false alarm”, May 16, 2016, The Telegraph.

Kern, Soeren, “A Month of Islam and Multiculturalism in Germany: July 2016”, August 17, 2016, The Gatestone Institute.

Meuthen: Now it has understood well the last: the euro must go!”, August 19, 2016, Alternative for Deutschland.

Oltermann, Phillip, “Jens Spahn: the man who could replace Merkel as chancellor”, August 28, 2016, The Guardian.

Stokes, Bruce, “Russia, Putin Held in Low Regard around the World“, August 5, 2015, Pew Research Center.

Thomas, Andrea, “Two German State Elections Pose Test for Merkel Amid Voter Angst Over Migrants”, August 17, 2016, The Wall Street Journal.

Yuri Lavada Analytical Center, as found on the www.

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