Sunday, March 27, 2016

Donald Trump’s German Counterpart

Germany would have to build too many walls to stem the immigrant tide that has enveloped that nation of 81 million people. But there is a growing yearning for walls there. At first, Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted to prove to the world that country that gave rise to Nazi genocide was no longer like that anymore. She opened her arms to welcome Syrians, mostly Muslims, fleeing the unbridled and seemingly random brutality of their own government, with the overt assistance of their Russian and Iranian allies. Merkel rallied Europe to a noble cause.
But as time passed, eastern Europeans and Greeks were the first where an angry right wing reared its head to challenge this massive influx of darker-skinned refugees, fearing the clandestine terrorists who might be mixing with the crowd. Fences, barriers and rules soon followed. Even the Danes got into the game, confiscating even minor wealth from refugees as their cost of admission. The initial welcome turned stone cold.
The wave of concern washed over Europe. David Cameron angled for more restrictions over cross-border emigres from Europe to the UK as part of the price of recommending that the UK remain in the European Union in the upcoming UK referendum on EU membership. The free movement, open borders elements of the EU’s Schengen Amendment seemed to be facing an end of days.
Meanwhile, back in Germany, Merkel’s own tide appeared to be turning. Unlike the United States, where populists are trying to take over both parties, Bernie Sanders the Dems and Donald Trump the GOP, in most nations, when a new movement arises, so does a new party. And historically, some of those new little parties become big powerful ruling parties.
A new movement in Germany is drawing a bead on Merkel’s conservative centrists: “A far-right party fiercely opposed to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcome for refugees made startling gains in three state elections in Germany on Sunday [March 13th], dealing the chancellor a blow as she tries to seal a deal with Turkey to reduce the influx of migrants.
“In elections that showed how strongly the refugee crisis has scrambled politics and daily life in Germany, Ms. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats failed to wrest control of two states in western Germany where they had once been expected to do so.
“In the one eastern state that voted, her party finished first. But the Alternative for Germany, a populist, nationalist party formed in 2013, was only five percentage points behind.
“Ms. Merkel, now facing the toughest challenges of her political career, had no immediate comment on Sunday. She left that to party lieutenants on television talk shows that spent hours dissecting the muddled outcome of the first big electoral test of Ms. Merkel’s refugee policy.” New York Times, March 14th. No Merkel isn’t about to lose her top spot in the near term, but the changes to the German political spectrum represent a warning shot across her bow.
Sunday’s [March 13th] results showed considerable opposition to her policy within Germany. And in Europe, several countries have refused to take in refugees and have closed their borders to migrants, rejecting Ms. Merkel’s appeal for a unified approach to the challenges posed by the more than one million who have arrived since early 2015.
“[In mid-March], Ms. Merkel [hoped] to conclude a deal with Turkey to stem the flow. In exchange for European concessions such as visa-free travel for Turks and up to 6 billion euros, or about $6.7 billion, in aid, Turkey would take back any illegal migrants crossing from its shores to Greece.
“But a crackdown on the news media in Turkey, growing clashes between Turks and Kurds, and general violence there — a bombing was reported in Ankara on [March 13th] — make the deal tough for some European countries to accept…
Karl-Rudolf Korte, a professor of politics at the University of Duisburg-Essen, predicted that Germany’s big parties, which govern in a ‘grand coalition’ nationally, would draw closer together as a result of Sunday’s elections. In other European countries, a closing of the establishment ranks has kept extremists from power, but has not necessarily brought their voters back to the mainstream parties.
“At the Alternative for Germany’s celebrations in Berlin, jubilant supporters insisted that they were not far-right extremists… ‘The current policy of the national government has done everything as wrong as it could in presenting us as Nazis and not as people who just want change,’ said Klemens Riebe, 59, who works at a utility in Berlin. ‘And let’s remember that many of our members come from the middle class.’” NY Times.
There are deep, right wing populist voices rising throughout the West. Likewise, in China, we can hear the sounds of doors shutting to foreign investors and vendors, as that nation contracts into her own priorities. Look at our own populist candidates, threatening to build walls or reject open trade agreements. Global economic and political turmoil is not creating warm and fuzzy openness, but when economics improve, perhaps the cycle will revert. The big question is when, and the bigger question is if, that overall reversal of fortunes reignites these Western economies before the political axe falls.
I’m Peter Dekom, and world appears to be turning inwards, more and more, every day.

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