In a regional election in Bavaria, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition party CSU and the center-left social democratic SPD were massacred at the polls. Combined the two establishment parties lost a massive 21% support.
CSU ended up at 36.8%, losing its majority, and SPD was nearly wiped out at 10.1%. The two parties who gobbled up most of those votes were the Greens on the left with 17.5% and the national populist right-party Alternative for Germany (AfD) with 10.3%, its best result ever in Bavaria. Independent candidates also did well.
CSU party leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that it was “a difficult situation” for the party, and that it must look for coalition partners.
Following the Pattern
The Bavarian regional election thus follows the pattern seen across Europe in the last few years of a collapsing center, and the onslaught of outsiders and anti-establishment parties, both on the left and the right.
Bavaria has been the stronghold of the traditional CSU party for decades, but due to Angela Merkel’s open borders policy and weak handling of crime and social ills following the 2015 migrant crisis, the support for her party, CDU, and its Bavarian sister-party, CSU, has slowly eroded and given way to immigration skeptic parties like AfD.
Until the wave of migrants flooded Europe, Merkel was a popular and uncontested leader. Now, some political pundits are whispering that she may not last until the next election. Although she has backpedaled on her initial open borders position, it was too little too late to change the impression of her as someone who is fundamentally incapable of taking care of German interests.
She may have done irreparable damage to her CDU/CSU party, and German politics may never return to its old normal.
Looking to the Future
Although this was only a regional election, it is an omen of what might be in store in the national election in 2021. Merkel does not have much time to turn the ship around, and AfD has clear ambitions of replacing her on the national scene.
To regain the ground that has been lost to the populist right, nothing less than a sharp reversal on immigration policies and reaffirming a respect for national sovereignty will do. There is little evidence that Merkel will do this. Germany has already supported the U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), which will enable tens of millions of third world migrants to enter Europe, and it seems unlikely that the establishment will suddenly reverse this.
More likely, the old center will continue its atrophy until it is too late to reverse the trend and new players, like the AfD and the Greens, will set the agenda.