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Dec 8, 2004 | 01:51 GMT

Germany: Merkel vs. Multiculturalism

Summary
After being re-elected leader of Germany's opposition Christian Democratic Union on Dec. 6, Angela Merkel spoke out against multiculturalism and condemned Berlin's attempts to integrate ethnic communities. Merkel's statements echo the sentiments of a certain earlier German government, and the re-emergence of right-wing parties there could portend another shift in the country's policies toward foreigners.
Angela Merkel, leader of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Party, lambasted Germany's policies on multiculturalism during a party conference Dec. 6 in Dusseldorf. Calling multiculturalism a resounding failure, Merkel repeated her opposition to Turkey's membership in the European Union and emphasized patriotic and conservative values. While popular support for the CDU has dropped in recent months, Merkel's statements, combined with the increasing support enjoyed by other nationalistic, right-wing parties, are ominous. If the CDU and the National Democratic Party (NPD), another right-wing group, are able to consolidate their power in the government, they will change the tide of German policies on immigration and the rights of ethnic minorities. The CDU, formed after World War II, espouses a conservative, center-right platform. It draws support from all economic classes and trumpets a return to patriotism and "traditional" German values. More recently, the CDU has called for economic reforms to bring Germany out of nearly a decade of slow growth and high unemployment. Its platform also calls for controls to limit immigration and promotes the idea of a "leitkultur," or German "guiding culture." With support for Germany's ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) falling, the CDU might be able to capitalize on its near-equal popularity and gain the chancellorship in just a few years. The SPD holds a razor-thin parliamentary majority of three seats more than the CDU in the Bundestag, while the CDU controls the less-powerful Bundesrat, which often blocks SPD legislation. To be fair, support for the CDU also has fallen. An October poll by the independent Infratest institute showed support for the party decreased from 50 percent in March to 40 percent in October (the SPD fell from 30 percent to 23 percent). While the CDU appears to be losing a small amount of its political clout, Germany's far-right parties are gaining more. In September, regional elections resulted in gains for the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), a neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic group that won nearly 10 percent of the vote in the state of Saxony, while the German People's Union (DVU), another right-wing party, won 6 percent of the vote in Brandenburg. After the victories, the NPD and DVU announced they would link up to form a right-wing "national alliance" in hopes of securing the 5 percent of the vote necessary to win seats in the Bundestag. While STRATFOR is not suggesting Germany is soon to see brownshirts on every street corner, the gains made by right-wing parties echo a period in German history when the rise of the right had disastrous results. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party won power at a time when Germany was plagued by high unemployment, economic depression and the destruction of its military. Germany posts joblessness of more than 10 percent, growth of under 2 percent of gross domestic product and enormous cutbacks in military spending. There is another similarity: Germany in the 1930s had a minority Jewish population of around 500,000 — just under 1 percent of the country's total — that it blamed for all its troubles. Germany in 2004 has a foreign-born population of about 7 million (of whom an estimated 3 million are Muslim), which is around 9 percent of the country. Right-wing German parties already have proposed several measures to limit immigration and the influence of minorities on German culture. Although the SPD managed to pass a reform bill in 2000 that made it easier for immigrants to become naturalized Germans, the CDU — should it wrest power away from the ruling party — could try to limit the power of those reforms. During the CDU Party conference Dec. 7, several initiatives on immigration and ethnic integration were adopted. These include limiting the actions of Islamic leaders, requiring immigrants to learn German and take German culture classes and imposing sanctions against those who refuse. Although STRATFOR will not accuse Merkel of being a Nazi sympathizer, her statements at the conference are reminiscent of Hitler's. Merkel said in a 2004 interview, "The notion of multiculturalism has fallen apart. Anyone coming [to Germany] must respect our constitution and tolerate our Western and Christian roots." As Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, "a State may be called bad if, in spite of the existence of a high cultural level, it dooms to destruction the bearers of that culture by breaking up their racial uniformity." Indeed, the CDU itself is not as troubling as what it could inspire. The multiculturalism encouraged by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is something very recent and hardly resonates with most Germans. The era of German political leadership apologizing for being German is over, and it is not unimaginable that far-right parties could capitalize on their recent gains to move the country back into a xenophobic frame of mind.
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