Merkel can halt the far right but needs support and solidarity
2017-10-15 09:09:29 -
Opinion
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Michael McGowan

 

The re-election of Angela Merkel is good for Germany, good for Europe, and good for the international community. Her winning of a fourth term of office is a remarkable achievement and consolidates her position as the most powerful political leader not only in Europe but also, since the election and behaviour of US President Donald Trump, as the most influential spokesperson for democratic values in the western world.

 

Merkel was elected with a clear lead ahead of Martin’s Schultz’s social democrats. But both of Germany’s mainstream parties have lost support to the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which with 90 seats becomes the first substantial right-wing party in Germany’s parliament since the Nazis.


Wake-up call for democracy

I was in same group as Martin Shultz as an MEP and believe that, as president of the European Parliament, he gave the parliament a stronger voice, especially among other EU institutions, than any of his predecessors. Shultz is an impressive European politician. He has long warned about the rise of the far right across Europe, and shares the same passion for the European project as Merkel.

 

However, Schultz’s social democrats suffered as a result of being part of the grand coalition with Merkel, and I believe it is a wise decision not to start a new coalition but to provide the lead as the main opposition.

 

Merkel’s win, meanwhile, leaves her with the formidable challenge of responding to the AfD, which capitalised on the resentment of her handling of the 2015 refugee crisis and the arrival of more than a million predominantly Muslim migrants.

 

The AfD’s success needs to be a wake-up call to all who care about democratic values, to rally behind Angela Merkel – who is one of the most respected international political leaders in a world of more and more populist and nationalist groups.

 

Jean-Marie Le Pen was an MEP when I was elected to the European Parliament. Back then there were enough far0right MEPs to form an official group which attracted speaking time and public funds to operate in the parliament. Now the AfD, which was simply a fringe group in 2013, is a substantial bloc in the German parliament, that will also increase its access funding and speaking time, besides more media exposure.


Turning point in history

The election of the far right is a historic turning point in recent German history, against a background of being the EU country which more than most has come to terms with its past, unlike Britain and France with their allusions of past imperial glory.

 

Since the Second World War, Germany has enjoyed the leadership of some influential chancellors, a couple of whom – Willie Brant and Helmut Kohl – I’ve had the privilege of meeting. Today the united Germany is the most influential and largest EU member state, with a population of over 80 million. Berlin, its capital, which was reduced to a pile of debris in 1945 following the war, has risen from the ruins and is a vibrant international centre of politics and culture.

 

Germany was one of the brave founder states of what is now the EU and is a stable democracy deeply committed to the European project. And it must also be noted that none of the German mainstream parties are considering entering a pact with the far right. But Angela Merkel still needs support and solidarity in order to counter the rise of extreme nationalism and populism.


Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.

 

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