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FM4 Reality Check

Germany votes!

Reality Check speaks with Dr Michael Bröning at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Berlin and asks for his best guess as to what is going to happen on Sunday?

by Steve Crilley

The German election is with us. At 63, Angela Merkel is the last of a generation of Western leaders. When she first came to power in 2005, Tony Blair was the UK’s Prime Minister and George W. Bush was US president. Mrs. Merkel has led her centre-right (CDU) party to three straight election victories, and is looking for a fourth. The main challenger is Martin Schulz, the 61-year-old former President of the European Parliament. Then, there’s the AfD - the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party. It was seen as the main threat to Mrs Merkel for much of last year.

But how much support will the party get? And what about her opening of the German border to refugees two years ago? Hundreds of thousands of (mainly Syrian) refugees made their way into Europe in August and September 2015, and Angela Merkel decided to engage in an open-door policy toward the newcomers. A few weeks ago she told the German Newspaper Die Welt:"I’d make all the important decisions of 2015 the same way again” adding that she has no regrets about her refugee policy.

This saturday Reality Check looks at the German elections:

Germany Votes

Dr. Michael Bröning is at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Berlin. It’s a political foundation affiliated with the SPD.

Steve Crilley: "How much is this election a verdict on Angela Merkel’s stance on refugees?

Michael Bröning: I think contrary to what you expect, the elections are not a referendum on Merkel’s refugee policies. Yes, the TV debate was largely about migration and yes, when you look at the polls, they tell us that the topic of migration is hugely important for voters. But on the other hand, if you walk through Berlin these days and you look at the campaign slogans, the topic of migration doesn’t appear anywhere apart from on AfD posters. And to me, the question is “why is that”? And I think that Merkel has changed her stance by approximately 180 degrees. Effectively the German borders are closed, you know about the deal with Turkey so the Balkan route is (also) closed. So, it’s just so much more difficult to criticize Merkel from the right because the refugee numbers are simply down.

The refugees coming two years ago. If we can call the situation of the arrivals and the response of Germany an “event”, it really shook up the whole political system because suddenly the Greens (for example) were applauding Merkel for her actions?

It’s absolutely true. I mean, this election is not just about the next government but it is also about quite drastic changes in the structural setup of the political system in Berlin. We can safely assume that there will be seven political parties in parliament. And I think, the last time, that happened, was way back in the 1950s. And then, of course, coalition building will be so much more difficult. When you listen to the Berlin talk these days, one of the options pundits talk about is the so-called Jamaica coalition – a coalition between the Conservatives and the Greens and the FDP. But the Conservatives are two parties, it’s Merkel’s party (the CDU) and their sister party (the CSU). So, a Jamaica coalition would actually consist of four parties. It is a bit like making a cake with four different recipes. It’s not that easy and maybe not going to be all that tasty?

The big talking points are of course Angela Merkel’s popularity and then there is the potential fortune of the AfD. But what about Martin Schulz and the SPD? What can we say about the Social Democrats at this stage?

Well, as you know, a huge portion of German voters are still undecided. And that is a lesson, that we also take from other European elections e.g. when you look at the elections in the UK, the polls differed very drastically from the actual result. So it is too early to say, what will happen to Martin Schulz. My personal opinion is, that he has done a remarkable campaign. But I am biased, because I work for the SPD Think Tank. I think we have to wait for the verdict of the voters and then have a discussion about how he did.

What’s your best guess as to what is going to happen on Sunday?

Well, to be honest, I am a bit concerned because I feel that not all is quiet on the populist front. When you just listen to the commentators these days, to them it’s a done deal. You know – Merkel will be re-elected and we will all be happy that populist parties will not do all that well. The AfD & the Linke hovering around 11 percent - that’s not all that much. In some ways it is too much, but effectively it doesn’t add up to much when you compare it to what happened in France & the Netherlands. So I feel, that this relative weak support for populist parties in Germany, obscures a dissatisfaction, that’s tangible. And it is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, that has fuelled the rise of anti-establishment parties (and figures) elsewhere, like in Hungary and Poland and the United States. Just to give you an idea of where public opinion currently stands: According to opinion polls, seventy percent of German voters actually have no faith in the mainstream media, eighty percent of voters trust political parties little or not at all. The Global Trust Report is a regular opinion poll that is done globally. Last year they asked Germans, which professions they trusted the most and German politicians came in last, well behind insurance agents and advertising specialists. So this goes beyond a general scepticism, there is a real problem in Germany and I feel that part of that is the growing gap between the views of many ordinary citizens and the government’s position, what you could call the Berlin consensus. Contrary to what many politicians in Berlin feel is right, a majority of German people feel, it is right to close the borders to refugees and seventy percent of people feel, that Islam does not belong to Germany.