Regional elections in Germany deliver further gains to the AfD, weakening Merkel

A year of electoral defeats

Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU party has suffered a set of electoral setbacks in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin; losses widely blamed by her detractors on her stance in the ongoing migration crisis in Europe. These renewed drubbings at the ballot box come after crushing defeats in elections in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg – the CDU’s former stronghold – earlier this year.

In Merkel’s home region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the CDU was pushed into third place, behind the Social Democrats and the surging right-wing populist AfD. Since re-unification, the north-eastern state has gone through more than two decades of de-industrialisation and population decline, although economic and demographic indicators have stabilised during recent years. In spite of the state’s extremely low proportion of immigrants and Muslims, the twin fears of migration and Islamisation dominated large parts of the electoral campaign. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/wahl-mecklenburg-vorpommern-afd-zweitstaerkste-kraft-spd-gewinnt-a-1110844.html ))

The subsequent Berlin state elections did not deliver a better result for Merkel’s party, with the CDU obtaining its lowest-ever vote share in a Berlin ballot. Neither did the AfD’s showing as strong as in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Nevertheless, Merkel’s inner-party rivals have been quick to lay the blame for the renewed debacle at her feet. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/berlin-wahl-spd-bleibt-staerkste-kraft-afd-zweistellig-a-1112823.html ))

Merkel changing course ahead of federal elections

While Merkel had for a long time stood by her initial mantra ‘Wir schaffen das’ (‘We can do it’) when talking about the evolving migration challenge, recent months had already brought a gradual shift in her position; perhaps most notably in the form of the EU-Turkey migration deal which she helped broker, as well as through harsher immigration legislation at home. In the aftermath of this string of electoral losses, Merkel has now explicitly abandoned her trademark phrase, commenting that ‘Wir schaffen das’ had become an “empty formula” that has only served to unnecessarily “provoke” many listeners; a provocation that had never been her intention – or so Merkel asserted in a press conference. (( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/merkel-1377.html ))

One year ahead of Germany’s federal elections, Merkel’s national approval ratings have dropped to the lowest level in five years, and the majority of voters do not want her to run again for office. Yet at the same time, Merkel’s rivals within her own party as well as the presumptive Social Democratic contender for the Chancellery, Sigmar Gabriel, remain equally unpopular, so that so far no clear challenger has emerged.  ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/deutschlandtrend-617.html ))

 

Amidst political controversy, German DITIB association vows greater emancipation from Turkish state

 

DITIB: a pawn of the Turkish government?

Recent weeks and months have witnessed growing pressure on Germany’s largest Islamic association, DITIB. As a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), DITIB has been charged with being a pawn of the Turkish government and with seeking to render German Turks loyal to President Erdoğan. As Euro-Islam reported, these accusation have become ever louder since July’s failed coup in Turkey, in the aftermath of which DITIB appeared to participate in anti-Gülenist agitation.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/))

These developments now jeopardise the slow progress DITIB has made in its quest to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or even as a ‘public law corporation’, legal statuses provided by the German constitution. The bestowal of such a status would enable DITIB to have a greater say in the organisation of religious education in public schools, and would eventually also open up new financial possibilities – e.g. through the granting of state subsidies or even through the power to tax Muslim community members via the Muslim equivalent to the Christian ‘church tax’.

Current political turmoil threatens DITIB’s institutional and political gains

In recent years, DITIB had made some headway in this regard in several of Germany’s 16 federal states: in Lower Saxony as well as in Rhineland-Palatinate, DITIB is negotiating state treaties with the regional governments that seek to open new areas of cooperation in education, social services, and ritual matters. In North Rhine-Westphalia, DITIB is even attempting to become a ‘public law corporation’.

Recent events, however, have rendered the success of these initiatives doubtful. The Lower Saxon oppositional Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has withdrawn from the state treaty negotiations with DITIB, arguing that an association controlled by the Turkish government is no legitimate discussion partner.((https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/CDU-Fraktion-steigt-aus-Scheitert-Islamvertrag,islamvertrag106.html)) In a similar move, the Social Democratic government of Rhineland-Palatinate halted treaty negotiations, asserting that it was necessary to await further developments in Turkey and DITIB’s reaction to them.((http://www.swr.de/landesschau-aktuell/rp/dreyer-aeussert-sich-zu-umstrittenem-islamverband-die-tuerkei-krise-folgen-fuer-rheinland-pfalz/-/id=1682/did=17903846/nid=1682/5yt4qj/index.html))

Finally, the minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft (SPD), noted that it was increasingly unlikely that DITIB would meet the necessary criteria in order to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or ‘public law corporation’ in the constitutionally relevant sense.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/hannelore-kraft-geht-auf-distanz-zu-tuerkischem-islamverband-ditib-a-1107293.html)) This comes after her government had been relatively well-disposed towards DITIB’s quest for legal recognition in the past.

Emancipation from Turkish state and government?

These events have apparently prompted the DITIB leadership to publicly distance their organisation from events in Turkey and from the Turkish government. In the past, DITIB had repeatedly emphasised its claim to political neutrality.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/)) Going beyond this, the organisation’s spokesman Zekeriya Altug now broached the sensitive issue of DITIB’s financial ties to the Turkish state apparatus: in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Altug asserted that “the question is how long Turkey will still give support to DITIB-Imams. We need to look for alternative sources of funding in the long run.”((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html))

Altug added that in the future DITIB’s Imams “shall and will” no longer be Turkish citizens sent by the Turkish government; instead, Imams would be from Germany and be native German speakers.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html))

DITIB’s dilemma between Germany and Turkey

This move is a strong indicator of the pressure DITIB is under in the current political situation. While the organisation usually simply denies that any control is exercised by Ankara, its spokesman now apparently felt compelled to declare that DITIB would seek to emancipate itself from Turkish governmental influence. It is not yet clear whether DITIB will act upon this announcement and progressively eliminate the financial links to Turkey. Nor is it clear, for that matter, how the resulting shortage in funds could be replaced: as long as the legal status of the association is in limbo in Germany, DITIB would most likely struggle to attain adequate funding – a fact that is generally not mentioned by all those criticising DITIB for its continuing ties to the Turkish state.

Altug’s statements do reveal, however, DITIB’s predicament: on the one hand, DITIB is deeply embedded in Turkish institutions and politics. It cannot simply extricate itself from these ties to Turkish state and government. On the other hand, however, DITIB wishes to remain an influential player on the German political scene, also in order to retain its position in the large Turkish immigrant community in the country.

Amidst the current turmoil, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile these two objectives. For German Islamic associations, this is not an unheard-of situation: in the past, the Islamic Community Milli Görüş in Germany (IGMG) gradually chose to loosen the ties to its Turkish parent, because too close an affiliation with the Turkish Milli Görüş movement proved too detrimental to IGMG’s attempts to gain a foothold on the German political and institutional scene. What is new is that DITIB, for a long time the preferred partner of successive German governments, should be faced with this dilemma.

Muslims in German parties

April 29

 

Muslims in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have begun to initiate working groups about the opinion of Muslims about German politics. The goal is to juxtapose the overwhelming prejudice in German public about Muslims being unable to participate in democratic societies. Also, Muslims in the SPD aim at improving the image of Muslims proving their compatibility with democracy. On February 14th 2014, SPD head Siegmar Gabriel and Minister of Integration Aydan Özoguz organized a session for the new initiated “working group for Muslim social democrats”. The working group is expected to be an important step towards the recognition of Muslims and their engagement in German society.

 

A further positive step was the designation of Yasmin Fahimi this January as the General Secretary of the SPD. Fahimi (46) is a German Chemist of Iranian descent.

Dual citizenship and reactions from Muslim groups

December 5, 2013

 

The new coalition of the German government led by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Christian Democratic (CDU) and the Christian Socialist Party (CSU) is planning to reform the citizenship law, enabling immigrants to obtain dual citizenship. The citizenship decree of the year 2000 obliged every German-born child to choose between German citizenship and the citizenship of its parents’ origins by the age of 23. If they refused to choose, they would automatically become foreign citizens.

While the issue was discussed controversially in German media, the Turkish Islamic Union Institute for Religion (DITIB) criticized the rhetoric of German politicians such as Minister of Interior Friedrich (CSU). He had raised his concerns about the loss of German identity when permitting a significant number of immigrants to become Germans. According to DITIB, Turkish immigrants would be an integral part of German society and there would be no need to question their loyalty and efforts for integration.

 

DITIB: http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=383&lang=de

MIGAZIN: http://www.migazin.de/2013/11/28/integrationspolitik-zwischen-reformen-stillstand/

Chancellor Angela Merkel dismisses the idea of segregated sports education for Muslim boys and girls

April 6

 

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) dismissed the idea of gender segregation. Her government spokesman Streiter described the segregation of Muslim boys and girls as “the absolute wrong signal for the integration policy of Germany”.

 

Before, Peer Steinbrück the chancellor candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) refused a clear statement; neither denying nor welcoming gender segregation.

Aspiring SPD Vice-Chairwoman Distances herself from Radical-Islamic Brothers

30.10.2011

Aydan Özoguz, MP and aspiring vice-chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has distanced herself from her radical Islamic brothers. Yavuz and Gürhan Özoguz  run the anti-Israel and Pro-Iranian internet portal “Muslim-Markt” and were observed by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution for several years. Özoguz, who is hoping to the first chairwoman of the SPD with Turkish origins, wants to be seen and judged for who she is, independent of her brothers.

German Muslims Criticise the Social Democrats’ Refusal to Expel Sarrazin

26.04.2011

There is strong resentment amongst Germany’s Muslim and Jewish communities against the Social-Democratic Party’s (SPD) decision not to expel Thilo Sarrazin from its ranks for his harsh criticism of Muslim immigration to Germany. Just before Easter, the decision was taken that Sarrazin, who had made inflammatory statements about race, Muslims, and immigration in his best-selling book Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany destroys itself), could hold on to his party membership, overcoming efforts by fellow party members demanding his exclusion.

The Party’s decision was not only controversially received within its own ranks (as expressed by many members’ signing of a petition against Sarrazin’s continuing party membership), but also criticised by Aiman Mazyek, Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. According to the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, Mazyek especially criticises the SPD for avoiding a clear (and ruthless) confrontation with Sarrazin and his destructive arguments. Mazyek argues that Sarrazin’s account of (Muslim) minorities in Germany did not align itself with the principles of a tolerant, liberal-democratic society. Therefore, the Party’s decision was not a positive signal for Muslims in Germany.

Sarrazin Earns Millions with Anti-Immigration Book

17 December 2010

Former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin has become a millionaire many times over thanks to the proceeds of his inflammatory book attacking Muslim immigrants.
Sarrazin enraged politicians and the public this summer with the incendiary publication Deutschland schafft sich ab – Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen, or “Abolishing Germany – How we’re putting our country at jeopardy.”

In the book, Sarrazin warns that Germans could become “strangers in their own country” because of integration, and argues that Muslims are not compatible with German society.

He may have been forced to resign from his post at the Bundesbank and fight expulsion from the centre-left Social Democratic Party, but Sarrazin said on ZDF’s talk show Stuckrad Late Night on Thursday that he’d made a pile of money from the book.

When host Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre estimated that the 1.2 million copies sold had earned his guest €3 million, Sarrazin indicated it was significantly more.

Strache “Preaches” in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral

7 October 2010
In front of a crowd of 1500 supporters and 300 counter-demonstrators, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), Heinz-Christian Strache, ended his campaign for the Viennese elections with a rally in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Strache spent most of his time attacking the Social-Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and its candidate, the incumbent mayor of Vienna Michael Häupl, whom he criticized for his proximity with Islam. The SPÖ has too many candidates with Islamic background on their lists, said Strache, while he went on to attack the headscarf, “racism” against “ethnic Austrians,” and the number of foreigners in the country.

Vienna Election: Muslims voters could “tip the scales”

3 October 2010
In an interview with Die Presse, Omar Al-Rawi, a Social Democratic (SPÖ) politician and Integration spokesperson for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), stated that more mosques are not needed in Vienna, though many need to be renovated or relocated. According to Al-Rawi, Muslims could also “tip the scales” in the upcoming elections, and many may be more motivated now following the aggressive anti-Islamic campaign that the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) has pursued.
There are believed to be 200 000 eligible voters in Vienna who have a migratory background. According to studies from June 2010 by the public opinion research institutes IFES and TrendCom, immigrants with a Turkish background are heavily pro-SPÖ (78%), while immigrants from the former Yugoslavia also on the whole support the SPÖ (56%). Nonetheless, FPÖ-leader Heinz-Christian Strache’s aggressive campaigning amongst immigrants of Serbian background has borne its fruits: 27% of eligible voters from the former Yugoslavia are now supporters of the FPÖ.