What’s next for German politics after Cologne attacks

What is going on in Germany after Cologne attacks. Now we know a bit more about what happened, there is a debate if attacks were coordinated, we have seen protests, etc. In your opinion what does this debate mean for German society and politics (but probably also for Europe)? Read few comments.

Sebastian BukowWissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Forschungsinformation und Qualitätsicherung, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

In fact these incidents and the undifferentiated debate worsen the situation in Germany as to public/political debate and societal atmosphere (esp. polarization and right-wing populism / acts of violence). The quality of the public/political debate will not be helpful for a necessary but factual debate on recent problems. It is much more likely that populism and polarization increases. CDU/CSU and SPD will promote some more or less symbolic new laws, and chancellor Merkel already picked up this new zeitgeist (but at least a few politicians (left-wing SPD, Greens and Left Party) emphasized that we already have all relevant laws etc. and that there is a lack of implementation, e.g.). In a European perspective, it is quite likely that – as in other European countries already ongoing – renationalization and walling-off accelerates.

What we can see right now is a biased and widely undifferentiated debate in media, society and politics that lightens right-wing populism. Not surprisingly, esp. CDU/CSU (but some Social Democrats as well) and populist parties (esp. AfD) exploit the criminal incidents by using well-known populist elements:

–  Speaking in terms of general suspicion, esp.  talking of “migrants” as an homogenous group (ignoring e.g. that we should at least differentiate refuges and intra-EUropean mobility),

–  using undifferentiated arguments (e.g. ignoring the problematic, but all in all small number of criminals or drawing distorted pictures of religion-related differences, which are much more differences based on a conservative vs. left/liberal/modern cleavage),

–  claiming for new measures and strengthening the law.

To give an example:

Conservatives now claim for stricter law referring to (attempted) rape, but in fact this (in some details necessary) clarification of law was already planned by the coalition but hindered by conservatives (because up to now this was addressing intra-family rape mainly). Now, when “those migrants” are the suspects, conservatives discover their pro-feminist position and claim stricter laws. This is at least not authentic.

However, other aspects related to the incidents are not discussed that broadly, esp.:

–   fundamental mistakes by the police (and ongoing difficulties in multi-level cooperation due to police federalism),

–   increasing right-wing excesses or

–   the fact, that aspects of crime such as organized pickpocketing groups are nothing new esp. at Cologne Main Station).

All in all, the incidents of Cologne and (much more) the debate afterwards lighten the already inauspicious discussion in Germany and will most likely accelerate right-wing populism/extremism.

Christian Schweiger, Senior Lecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University.

My fear is that the Cologne attacks will be the tip on the iceberg of an already overstretched German public and that they could ultimately lead to a surge in support for the Pegida movement, the populist AfD and in the worst case even for extreme right parties like the NPD. In my opinion Merkel has gone too far with her open border and ‘we can manage this’ approach. The influx of 1.1 million people into Germany since August without proper registration poses a profound political, economic and most of social challenge for the country. Many cities in Germany struggle to provide affordable housing, nursery and school places for families and young German families on low to medium incomes are now likely to enter into a competition for these with refugees. This is potentially political dynamite as it can be easily exploited by the populists and extremist political forces. Moreover the Cologne attacks have shown that the cultural integration of the refugees will be a major challenge. If the younger people amongst the refugees end up without work and not integrated into German society we can expect a surge of crime and radicalisation amongst them which again would be more likely to lead towards a political right turn in Germany.

Some commentators (like Will Hutton in The Observer) are already warning that Germany may turn to the right in the aftermath of Cologne and this would of course have implications for the EU as a whole. For now my main concern regarding the European dimension of Merkel’s approach is the alienation of Eastern Europeans who uniformly and in my opinion for good reasons are unwilling to follow Merkel’s open door approach towards refugees. The more Merkel and her government pushes towards the introduction of compulsory quotas the more the partners in the East will turn away from Germany. Ultimately, if Germany pushes towards budgetary sanctions for countries who do not abide with the quotas we could see a severe and profound split in the EU and I would not even rule out for countries like Hungary and Poland under the current governments starting to reconsider their EU membership.

In summary my outlook for both Germany and the EU is quite bleak. The refugee crisis has hit the EU at a time when it has already been struggling to handle other internal (euro) and external (Ukraine) crises and it simply seems to be overburdened by it. Domestically the refugee crisis and Merkel’s handling of it occurs at a time when the country is economically prosperous and politically stable but the danger lies in the major political parties currently all supporting Merkel’s approach. This leaves little room for those who oppose it to support mainstream politics, instead they are likely to turn towards the AfD, Pegida and the like.

Eric Langenbacher, Adjunct Professor, Department of Government , Georgetown University

There is pervasive outrage or shock across the political spectrum–albeit for different reasons. Merkel has also been forced to harden her policy positions, for instance, by pledging to deport refugees who commit crimes. I think this means that the AfD or PEGIDA movement will not strengthen excessively, as many had feared. More generally, German public opinion and attitudes have vacillated between more or less acceptance of immigrants/refugees (especially from outside of the EU) for years. It was only a few years ago that Merkel declared multiculturalism to have failed and Thilo Sarrazin had a best-selling book on the issue. Yet, for several months after Merkel announced that refugees would be accepted and that there would not be a limit, it seemed that the more accepting and open tendency would prevail–certainly that is how it appeared in the media. But, now, I think we shall see the ascendance of the skeptical strains of thought. If this were the case and were policy to correspond, a re-alignment with public opinion and policy in much of the rest of the European Union would likely follow, helping to alleviate some of the tensions of recent months and years. Coordinated policies, greater common border security, and perhaps even more European efforts to end conflict in Syria, Libya, etc. might result.



One Response

  1. Well would it bother you if I said that the Germans won’t take it? The government will but the people won’t?

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