Stratfor: How immigration will change German politics, which will change Europe

Summary: Believing that the European Union made them immune to popular opinion, Europe’s elites acted on their class interests by opening the door to massive immigration, providing cheap workers in their business and homes. Now the resulting popular opposition, still in its early stages of arousal, has forced Germany to take steps to limit the inflow — violating the Schengen Agreement for open borders within Europe but probably insufficient to quiet public protests. They have unleashed the wild forces of populism in Europe. Here Stratfor begins to assess the consequences. Much of Stratfor’s value comes from the window it provides into thinking of Western elites, its most-important customers.


How German Politics Will Change Europe

Stratfor, 22 January 2016


  • Conservative voters and politicians, increasingly fearful of the economic, social and political repercussions of the refugee crisis, will continue to pressure the German government.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel will survive the political impasse, but her policies will change in the coming months as she toughens Germany’s asylum policies and remains reluctant to support Greek debt relief.
  • Germany, the largest EU economy, will increasingly question fundamental aspects of Continental integration, including the composition of the eurozone and the free movement of people.


As the European Union continues to fracture, debates in Germany could change Berlin’s domestic and foreign policies, reshaping the entire Continent in the process. A group of conservative politicians is questioning German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ability to address the immigration crisis, with some even threatening to launch a no-confidence vote against her. Merkel will probably survive these attacks, but this is the second rebellion against her leadership in less than a year.

Regardless of whether Merkel keeps her job, German conservatives are, and will continue to be, concerned about the rise of anti-establishment and anti-immigration groups in the country. Even if these emerging forces are still far from accessing power, they will influence mainstream parties. In addition, future challenges such as the integration of asylum seekers into the labor force and the economic impact of the downturn in emerging markets will create fertile ground for anti-establishment sentiments to prevail. If Germany takes a more isolationist stance on EU issues, Europe will only further fragment.

Stratfor: Syria, Europe, and the migration crisis
Click to enlarge.

The Limits of Rebellion

At this point, dissent among German conservatives is still within tolerable margins. German media reported that 44 lawmakers from the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), sent a letter to Merkel on Jan. 19 asking her to enhance border controls and limit the arrival of migrants. The rebellion is smaller than the one Merkel faced last year, when some 60 lawmakers voted against Greece’s third bailout program.

Merkel has several factors on her side, the most important of which is that her party is not ready to replace her. To replace a chancellor, lawmakers need enough votes to appoint a successor. But should the CDU and CSU try to oust Merkel, their coalition partners in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) would probably leave the government and trigger new elections.

Nobody in Germany is ready for elections. The CDU and CSU lack a clear candidate to replace Merkel. The only viable option is the popular finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, but it is unclear whether Schaeuble, who is 73 years old, wants to run. In addition, the CDU and CSU are aware that their popularity is declining. The CDU/CSU alliance is currently polling at around 33 percent, considerably lower than the 41.5 percent of the vote it received in the 2013 general elections. Early elections in this context could see thousands of conservative votes going to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, which is polling at around 12 percent.

The SPD is in a similar situation. The center-left has been stagnating in opinion polls for years, which currently show around 23 percent for SPD, down from 25.7 percent in the general elections. The party has also struggled to voice its ideology, which tends to be sympathetic to asylum seekers, while answering voters’ desire for tougher regulations for immigration. Just like the CDU, the SPD has little to gain from early elections.

Stratfor: political opinion polls by States in Germany
Click to enlarge.

Why Regions Matter

Merkel’s position is safe for now, but things could rapidly become more difficult for her in the coming months. Three states will hold regional elections on March 13. The results will show how the refugee crisis has helped or harmed the popularity of the mainstream political parties. The vote will also highlight the extent to which Alternative for Germany can syphon votes away from the CDU.

The anti-immigration party is polling at around 7 percent in Baden-Wurttemberg and at around 8 percent in Rhineland-Palatinate, in the west of the country. It is probably not enough to enter a government, but conservative politicians are concerned because in the past most of those votes would have gone to the CDU. Alternative for Germany is polling particularly well (around 13 percent) in Saxony-Anhalt in the center-east of the country. A strong performance could motivate members of the CDU to suggest a government alliance with the anti-immigration party.

Even in the likely case that Alternative for Germany fails to enter a regional government, its electoral rise will be enough to influence the behavior of the ruling party’s allies, much like the anti-establishment National Front party is in France. The recent combativeness of the Bavarian government, which threatened to sue the federal government, has forced Berlin to take a harder stance on asylum seekers. Merkel and her government have already responded, progressively toughening Germany’s migration policies.

The Toll on Europe

Germany’s political disputes will alter Berlin’s positions on European affairs, especially the refugee crisis. Border controls, which are currently supposed to be temporary, will become the new normal — going directly against the fundamental EU belief in the free movement of people. Germany will also become even more selective in accepting asylum requests; it has already rejected some migrants trying to enter the country from Austria. These decisions will create problems for Austria, since Vienna in turn will have to harden its own refugee policies, triggering a domino effect as countries along the Balkan migration route from Greece to Austria will be forced to introduce similar measures.

Germany will also pressure Greece and Italy to build additional reception centers for migrants, raising tensions with Italy. Another German push to enforce a mechanism to distribute asylum seekers across the Continent would complicate Germany’s relationship with Poland, too, and Warsaw is unlikely to cooperate. If the largest economies in Southern and Eastern Europe simultaneously oppose Germany, it would seriously undermine Germany’s leadership in European Union.

Finally, Germany will probably demand a stronger commitment from Turkey in preventing asylum seekers from entering Europe, complicating the union’s relations with Turkey. German lawmakers will oppose granting Turkey the money Brussels promised to Ankara, and they will resist moves to reactivate Turkey’s EU accession process unless Turkey does more to keep migrants in its own territory. This may prove difficult, though, since Ankara’s decision to give Syrian refugees the right to work has yet to encourage migrants to stay.

Rebel groups within the CDU and CSU will influence the government’s policies on other issues as well. For example, Berlin will maintain a tough stance on Greece. The Greek government is slowly implementing many of the policies required by its bailout agreement, but Athens’ main goal is to obtain some form of debt relief. This will be coldly received by Germany, which will continue to resist any debt write-downs.

Merkel’s government will be open to the idea of granting Greece longer maturities and lower interest rates, but only as long as the International Monetary Fund is involved in the process. Germany thinks the IMF is not as politicized as the Eurogroup, where countries such as France and Italy could push for leniency with Greece. The more debt relief talks are delayed, the more likely Greece’s coalition government will collapse, since the promise of future debt relief is one of the main things keeping it together.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and immigrant from Middle East
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits a shelter for migrants in Berlin, Germany. SEAN GALLUP/Getty Images.

New German Woes

Beyond the current political impasse, the future holds other new challenges for Germany, the most obvious being how to integrate the refugees into the labor market. At this point, most of the asylum seekers who entered Germany in 2015 are not included in the employment data, because as long as they are applying to become refugees, they are not eligible for work and therefore are not considered in labor statistics.

But some German institutions are already expressing concerns about how fast asylum seekers will be able to find a job. According to the Ifo Center, the majority of refugees would first need extensive training before they can enter the workforce, which would require Germany to invest significant resources to provide. In the meantime, the refugee crisis could lead to a temporary rise in unemployment figures. While most Germans probably will not see their personal situation worsen, some voters may believe that their country is heading in the wrong direction and increase their support for anti-establishment parties.

Germany will also have to contend with the economic uncertainty stemming from the downturn in emerging markets, especially China. The German economy probably will not be seriously hurt by China’s slowdown, since demand from the United States and the eurozone will likely offset China’s declining need for German imports. However, a poor performance by the Chinese economy (the IMF predicts China will grow by 6.3 percent in 2016 compared with 6.9 percent in 2015) could weaken German growth and again generate more criticism against Merkel.

At the heart of Germany’s political problems are the concerns of a growing number of voters worried about different aspects of EU integration. There is a pervading mistrust of the currency union, which has made negotiations over Greece’s bailout program difficult, and of the free movement of people that has attracted asylum seekers to Germany. These fears are affecting German politicians, who are adapting their strategies to represent — and in some cases, to shape — voter expectations. These sentiments will evolve and become critical for the future of the European Union in the coming months as Germany prepares to elect a new government in 2017.

How German Politics Will Change Europe
is republished with permission of Stratfor.


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For More Information

I don’t share all of Mark Steyn’s values, and his analytical standards are sloppy. But too much of this is accurate to ignore: “It’s Still the Demography, Stupid“, 19 January 2016. It’s about America but applies to Europe as well.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see all posts about immigration, and especially these…

6 thoughts on “Stratfor: How immigration will change German politics, which will change Europe”

  1. The German public is difficult to understand from the other side of the Atlantic. The energy transformation the government instituted has had significant economic costs for the average German, and yet the policy is not under attack. The Cologne et al sexual attacks and harassment – and the media’s avoidance of the cultural aspects of it – also have not had a serious impact. The 1.1 million new mouths to support – who must be wandering the streets, as they are (largely) not working – also seem not to be raising serious social protests.

    Albert Speer, in partial explanation why Hitler was able to rise so well and proceed so well, said that the prior, Wiemar Republic’s social philosophy that each man or woman only need pay attention to his own, small part – do his job, in other words – for all to be well. The big decisions were properly the business of those at the top – who, by extension, only needed to do their “jobs” for all to be well. It was a mindset that encouraged stability and respect for the chain-of-command that authoritarians benefited from. Which works as well for the liberal left as the illiberal right. Is this institutional passivity the reason there has been so little internal dissent?

    Think of the howl the US – with a population of 330 million – raises when only 10,000 asylum seekers were to be fast-tracked by Obama! There is little philosophy in the average American to let others claim they are smarter, let alone claim that he or she should submit silently. But the German people seem to do so, and so so repeatedly.

    On the surface of it, a return to a national Germany would seem to make sense. The troubles of foreigners or that foreigners bring could be made to go away. And end to the EU may cause economic disparities to increase – but in Germany’s favour. NATO would not be affected. Yet the wind does not blow in this direction. Why? Is it this passivity, again?

    There are big forces at work in Europe right now. The non-response of the general public looks to me to be a sign that certain groups are working hard to “keep the lid on”. Why, I’m not sure. But the non-response is not what a North American might expect under the same circumstances.

  2. Wouldn’t it be easier to just outsource everything to cheaper countries, like the US %1 has done over the last few decades?

    Mind you, I’m extremely skeptical of all the “Eurabia” doom-saying. It’s not helped by the fact that decades of far-right racists and their cries of “white genocide!” have made this topic so poisonous that it’s almost impossible to discuss honestly in public with sane people. That said, *if* all these predictions that Muslim immigrants are going to destabilize and destroy Europe are true, seems like a big risk for the 1% to take.

  3. Pingback: Idiots Talk about Immigration | Clarissa's Blog

  4. Reposted from Clarissa’s Blog: “An academic’s opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.”

    Idiots Talk about Immigration

    God, people are stupid. See the following bit of idiocy:

    Europe’s elites acted on their class interests by opening the door to massive immigration, providing cheap workers in their business and homes.

    This fellow probably thinks all immigrants are exactly the same and imagines us all as vaguely Hispanic, working as maids, gardeners, and babysitters. The fact that the current wave of massive migration into Europe is more likely to sprout wings and fly than work in the elite’s “homes” does not sink in.

    1. So that’s an academic’s analysis! Name-calling and sweeping generalization? Let’s see if its possible to do better.

      As evidence for my statement that the large-scale immigration is intended to provide cheap labor I cited a 2012 BBC story “EU should ‘undermine national homogeneity“, quoting Peter Sutherland. Sutherland was a Chairman of Goldman Sachs, BP, and the London School of Economics Council — and the UN’s Special Representative for Migration. He’s quite explicit.

      There are a large number of other speeches and reports equally or more explicit about this. Note that this wave of immigration arrives as wages in Germany are ending their long stagnation.

      “The fact that the current wave of massive migration into Europe is more likely to sprout wings and fly than work in the elite’s “homes” does not sink in.”

      Saying “the current wave is more likely to sprout” is an odd expression. Do you mean that none or few will work in homes? That’s been a commonplace entry-level job for immigrants in the US and Europe for a century (at least). You must have strong evidence why this wave will be so different.

      N0te that the two largest sources of migrants into Europe are Syria and Afghanistan, both poor nations — ranking 164 and 224 by World Bank data on GDP per capita for 2007 (last available data for Syria). See this BBC article: “Migration to Europe explained in graphics“.

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