Merkel's decisions led to rise of Alternative for Germany party – German MP
Germany is in an unprecedented political limbo – with coalition talks collapsing, the country may be headed into a snap election – with uncertain results. What happens next? We ask Beatrix von Storch, member of the Bundestag and deputy leader of the Alternative for Germany party.
Sophie Shevardnadze: It’s been eight weeks since the election and chancellor Merkel still can’t form a government. This is the first time this has happened in 70 years. Is this crisis the result of politicians putting their personal ambitions above national interests, or is the Chancellor to blame for failing to broker a compromise?
Beatrix von Storch: It’s all up to Merkel, this is true. It’s a government formed together with her, the Greens and the Liberals - this was only her idea. It’s only good for Merkel, it’s to save her job. But it’s bad for all the other parties - that’s why the coalition failed in the very end. I think it’s a very good decision for Germany - not to have such a coalition. It would have been a very bad one, so we’re happy that they did not succeed. And we will see what comes next.
SS: One of the ways out now is calling a new election - but arranging the snap election is hardly snappy. There’ll be a vote in the Bundestag, and then another one, and another one, etc., the process may drag on until spring. How’s the country going to go without a government for so long?
BS: We still have a government. We learned through our history that it’s not good to have a situation when there’s no government. So this is not possible. We’ve had a government through this process the whole time, which is the old government, which is still in place. So this is not the problem. The question is - what will be the outcome of this whole process? Will there be a new government being formed based on the last election or will we have a new election?
SS: Have you ever thought what would happen if the snap election produces the same result we have now? Could there be never-ending political deadlock?
BS: This is what we’re saying and this is, I think, the answer also to the other parties that they are not going for the new election. I don’t think the outcome will be completely the same. I think it will strengthen us. Our votes, our current supporters are going up in the polls at the moment and the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats are going down. The outcome of a new election might even worsen the situation. So I think they will overthink it, come together and form a coalition within the framework which is given now.
SS: So why are they losing votes and why are you gaining votes?
BS: Because people see they’re not taking responsibility and they’re just making up something that isn’t there. There is no political argument [as to] why the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats cannot go together. There is no political gap between them. If you ask them, ‘What are the differences in your policy-making? What are the different issues you’re tackling? Why can’t you join together? What are your differences?’ - they can’t name them! There aren’t any. It has only to do with the power of Merkel and the ego, the wishful thinking of the chancellor’s candidate of the Social Democratic Party Martin Schulz, who said “No, we won’t join them”... He wants to save his party, he doesn’t want to go into any more compromises with the Christian Democratic Party because he is afraid of losing even more support for his SPD. So these are all arguments which are not supported by the people. The people say “there is no difference between you both so go together and form a government, this is your duty!”
SS: Of all the possible scenarios, a new election is what Angela Merkel prefers. Why do you think that is? She lost many votes in the September election. Now that she failed to form a ruling coalition, she might not get a needed majority. What is she looking at?
BS: The whole country is wondering what is moving Merkel in her policy. There is not a reasonable argument for what she’s done in the past, especially in the last few years - two years perhaps. When it comes to migrant crisis we’re wondering - what is she doing? She’s not doing this to serve the country - this is very clear, no one really doubts it. So it’s very difficult to understand what she is going for. What is her aim? And the only thing that moves her, obviously, is saving her own power and, maybe, moving the country into something completely new. I would say, she is the first ‘green’ chancellor, we’ve ever had. She’s putting all the lefts together. And it should be very easy for her personally and, in the meantime, also for her party, to join together with the Social Democrats and The Greens so that they will have the majority. But it’s not good for the country.
SS: Your party, Alternative for Germany, pulled a surprising percentage in the September election. How big of an improvement can you count on if another vote is called?
BS: We’re seeing the pools at the very moment, they are going up. We’re now up to 13 %, we are the third biggest party in the parliament already, and our numbers are increasing. We’re not afraid of a new election, but we don’t think that’s good for the country. And again, it will not change the situation we’re in at the moment. It will make it more difficult for others to come up with new ideas.
SS: With all the uncertainty surrounding the coalition talks breakdown - are you afraid the German people will want a more stable scenario, and therefore vote for established parties this time?
BS: I think people want to have a political change. We’ve gained lots of support. We won 6 million votes from all around the other parties and from the non-voters - despite the strong public pressure up on us. People are willing to have a different political direction now. Even [among] those who are voting in favour of the Christian Democratic Union - there are not so many people who really support the direction where Merkel is pushing our country to.
SS: My question is - do Germans want a stable government or do they want a change? Which one is it?
BS: Of course every country wants and needs a stable government. What has to be a way out of this situation is that the Christian Democratic party, and especially Ms. Merkel, [should] start to understand that they have to shift their political direction. If they move towards our policy and our point of view in terms of Euro, migrant crisis, Islam, the European Union, the ever-closer EU and all other important issues - we will have a stable situation in Germany. Because there is a clear majority along with the CDU - the liberals and us, the AfD. That’s just a question of numbers.
SS: So the AfD is the third largest party in the Bundestag, but it’s still viewed as a political outcast by the establishment parties. How do you plan to influence the current situation?
BS: Our responsibility is to change the political direction Germany is going to. And we have reached this [goal] already to some extent. We’ve prevented the so-called “Jamaica coalition” - the CDU, the liberals and the Greens. They did not come together because of the AfD. This is already a huge success for the country and we’re responsible for it. This means we’ve changed the direction a little bit at least. The country was heading for a very left direction and now we’re moving it a little bit more to the middle when it comes again to the grand coalition between the SPD and the CDU. This is why we say it’s a big success - but it will be a bigger success if Merkel steps down, takes responsibility for what she’s done and at least lets the grand coalition come into power again. It won’t be a good solution for our country either, of course - it would be better to have CDU, liberals and AfD to form the government. But this is not at least possible at the moment since the CDU is such a left party - or a green party, which is even worse.
SS: Germany’s symbolic President Frank-Walter Steinmeier suddenly holds real sway now, since he has the power to appoint any chancellor he wants. Can he persuade his former party - the Social Democrats - to re-enter in a grand coalition with Merkel, to prevent calling another vote?
BS: It is true that the President is now in a very strong position because the Bundestag cannot be dissolved and have a new election without the President’s decision. He’s the one to take that decision. He cannot appoint any chancellor he wants to - this has to come from the parliament. But still, he could keep the current government in power for a long while. So he is in a very strong position and he is now pushing, basically, both biggest parties - the CDU and the SPD - into talks, because he is not willing to just hold new elections. New elections are very expensive and they will not change the political majorities. He knows this will not be a solution to the problem - he is going for something more reasonable. And that is - getting those two [parties] without any political differences together and telling them to form the government.
SS: So can he do it? Can he push them to form a new government?
BS: Yes. By the law, he can. If he doesn’t call for new election there won’t be a new election. Also, we have a government in power - Germany is not without government and will never be, this is our constitution. He can just leave the current government in its place. His position is very strong, and I think this will put the pressure on others to come together. Really, the solution would not be very difficult. If Merkel takes responsibility for everything she’s done in the past - and the outcome was the worst result for the CDU in a federal election ever since the war - she will step down. And once she steps down it will be very easy for the SDP to join with the CDU and form a new grand coalition again. I think the anchor point, the very center of the whole problem has only one name - and this is Merkel.
SS: Do you think this whole thing - the election, coalition talks, the crisis - is basically the result of the chancellor’s decision to open Germany’s doors for refugees?
BS: This is [just] one reason, it’s not the only one. The difficulties in forming the government are only because the AfD is there. The new third biggest party is in the parliament now and this is what causing them difficulties. We’re not only there because of the migrant crisis and the issue of Islam. We were founded on the grounds of the Euro rescue policy. We were founded on the grounds of having the ever-closer EU. And we will see all these issues to come - if it comes to the ideas of Macron on reforming the EU into basically a federal state. There are different reasons as to why we are there. And we are the reason why they have difficulties coming together.
SS: 49% of Germans want Merkel to remain Chancellor - at the same time, 49% of Germans support holding a new election. Does Germany really know what it wants? Isn’t this all a bit confusing?
BS: The debate has just started. It has not been for that long since the coalition talks were stopped. I think we will have a public debate. We would have, technically, a majority supporting conservative liberal policy - the CDU, the liberals and our party, AfD. There is a majority within the society, within the parliament, supporting this direction. But the CDU under chancellor Merkel does not want to participate in this. So this is why we have the problem. The only other solution for a stable government is the grand coalition, which is not happening at the moment since the SDP don’t feel like supporting it - but they still might go for it. So I think, we will follow the public debate for another few days or even weeks - and this will change.
SS: When you have someone like Chancellor Merkel in power for so long, it becomes hard to imagine the country without her - there just isn't anyone with universal appeal on the German political horizon right now. Are Germans just really used to Merkel, are they afraid of her leaving?
BS: I think she’s the problem. She’s governing the country in such a catastrophic way. She’s really doing damage to our country. I wouldn’t say, anyone would be better than her but I would say, almost any other solution would be better than Merkel. So there’s no reason to stick to her because she’s damaged our country in the way no one did since after the war in Germany. Saying that no one could rule the country as good as she can - this is, to be very polite, not true.
SS: Yes, but she’s the longest ruling Chancellor in Germany. She must be doing something right for people choosing her over and over again, right?
BS: She manages power - this is what she’s doing. But she is not thinking about the country’s interests. She’s very professional in how to keep her place safe, how to stick to the power, how to not hear any opinions. No one knows what she is thinking. She’s not coming with a vision, she hasn’t got a vision of the country. She’s not making any decisions. She’s not sticking to any values. She hasn’t got a program for our country. The only program she has is how to save her own political power. That’s all. And this is why the country is suffering so much. This is also the reason why it’s so difficult to get her out of the way. And, of course, within her party she was very vigilant about not having anybody around her who could take her seat. This is true. Again, she was very powerful and then she managed to politically destroy everyone who was able to take her seat. And again, this is not good for the country.
SS: Does this whole situation mean that Germany isn’t really ready to keep carrying the burden of being one of the global leaders anymore? You were a member of the European Parliament. Do you expect any reluctance from your former colleagues in letting Germany dominate EU decisions now?
BS: I think we have a very important role to play in the world. We’re not doing so because we’re getting weaker and weaker. We’re not driving the whole process. We’re, of course, participating in it but we’re not the decision-making party - in the EU or anywhere else in the world. We’re simply one or two steps behind. I think Germany should play the role but we’re in the weak position. But I don’t even want to have Germany influencing the EU with the visions of our chancellor. We want to have someone in place who wants to change the system of the EU, of how it works and functions, and then take more responsibility than our chancellor.
SS: The European press is losing it over Merkel’s failure to form a government, with headlines and columns claiming that European unity itself is in danger. Do you feel that the European project has become synonymous with Merkel’s persona? Is it in danger now?
BS: What does ‘in danger’ mean? If the European Union stops going for an ever-closer union I wouldn't call it a danger but rather an opportunity, a chance we should take because we don’t want to have that ever-closer union. Yes, chancellor Merkel is at least partially responsible for Brexit, you could say. One could say she supported Brexit - which is good. Because with her policy she made it easier for those advocating to leave [the EU] - they could see how we were struggling with Merkel’s policy, with millions of migrants coming into Europe, who then in the end might be coming to the UK. Merkel is also responsible for Brexit. She is the one of the biggest supporters of AfD - because if she hadn’t pursued such a bad policy and did everything right there wouldn’t have been a need for a new party. She is responsible for a huge political shift because she is moving in the wrong direction. But now there has been a move back into the right direction - which, of course, we support.
SS: Angela Merkel and French President Macron have been pushing for EU reform and EU Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker says the German crisis will not stop it. But can the Franco-German reform project effectively come to fruition now that Germany being politically weak?
BS: We really hope that this direction Merkel and Macron are going to will not succeed. This is quite the contrary of what we think is good. They’re really moving towards the ‘United States of Europe’. They want to undermine the nation’s sovereignty and we are going against this specifically. We don’t want to have the United States of Europe. We’re in favour of Europe but we want to have a Europe with sovereign nation states. We do want to have sovereign democracy, good relationships with our neighbors. We want to have free trade and free travelling if that’s possible. We don’t want to pay for it with our safety but if it’s possible to have free exchange of goods and let the people travel easily from one country to the other. But we don’t want to give up our sovereignty and hand it over little by little to other European institutions all at once. We don’t want to have a European Union army. We don’t want to have this common European currency, the Euro, which makes us pay for our neighbors’ debts. This is everything we don’t want. We want to have Europe and the EU as it was founded. And the idea [then] was to have good relations, free trade and free travelling within our neighborhood, within Europe - and this is what we do support. But Merkel and Macron are moving to something completely different - and this is what we oppose to strongly. If they move more into that direction we will see other countries follow the Brits and leave the European Union.
SS: Alright, Beatrix, thank you very much for being with us today. We were talking to Beatrix von Storch, member of the German parliament and deputy leader of the Alternative for Germany party, discussing the failure of coalition talks in Germany and its repercussions. That’s it for the latest edition of SophieCo, I’ll see you next time.