A CERTAIN sort of Anglo-Saxon commentator is permanently convinced that Germany is about to fall apart. Witness those American shock jocks ranting about no-go zones in cities whose names they would struggle to spell, let alone find on a map. Or those imaginative British tabloids that routinely suggest the nativist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will sweep Angela Merkel from power. Witness, too, mainstream commentators who should know better prematurely writing off the chancellor and, effectively, declaring Germany the next domino to fall to the West’s populist wave.
Such accounts underestimate the country. Its culture of remembrance creates a unique sense of historical responsibility and a stark wariness of demagoguery. Its political, media and wider civic life prioritise moderation and consensus: a new study by the Bertelsmann foundation shows that fully 80% of Germans consider themselves “centrist”, compared with 67% of Brits and 51% of French citizens. Germany’s economy is booming; the post-industrial grimness of swathes of Britain, France and America simply does not exist on that scale here. A lower proportion of Germans feel socially insecure than at any point since reunification. And in defiance of the apocalyptic predictions in the foreign press the country is coping with its refugees and starting to integrate them, as I explain in this week’s print edition.
So it is with caution that I predict that the country’s federal politics will take a rightwards turn at the election on September 24th. Mrs Merkel will be the next German chancellor. The country’s admirably cautious and reflective relationship with its identity and history will live on. It will continue to be a beacon of moderation and stability, the eye of the West’s nativist storm.
But I make the prediction nonetheless. The AfD is doing better than many expected. Its support spiked last year but had fallen again by the time of the party’s chaotic, rightwards-lurching conference in April. When, back then, I concluded that it was too early to write the AfD off, that was still a contentious prediction. But since the spring it has risen from around 7-9% in polls to the 8-12% range. Four of Germany’s six main pollsters have it on track to be the third largest party in the Bundestag. That would shake the political establishment.
Some in Berlin quietly wonder whether it might even outperform its polling, going deeper into double digits. The election campaign has given it new prominence, on talk shows for example, while mainstream opposition to Mrs Merkel has been relatively weak; consider her TV “duet” with Martin Schulz. That the chancellor’s centre-right CDU/CSU alliance is so far ahead of the Social Democrats (SPD) might tempt some centre-right voters annoyed by her refugee policies to vote AfD in protest (perhaps casting their first, “direct” vote for a CDU/CSU candidate and their second…