Why is coping with immigration a taboo in the German election campaign?
September 8, 2017
By FTI Consulting
FTI’s Martin Kothé in Berlin is concerned about the rift between people’s worries and parties’ offerings in the run-up to the elections
Just a couple of weeks to go until election day in Germany, Angela Merkel has a double-digit lead over the competition in the polls, and the campaigns of the established parties big and small have the voters bored stiff: they talk, respectively, about safer homes, higher pensions, better education, and doing something for the environment. In the streets, none of this seems to resonate with the electorate, and it is as if the parties talk largely to themselves. No-one complains either, though: For a country obsessed with stability, which seems to have turned into the German core value, it all seems fitting, and it also plays well into the hands of the front-running Chancellor herself who is the personal embodiment of stability.
One thing is striking, though: There is a subject that people care and talk about all the time over these weeks of summer, and it´s wholly absent from the campaign. That is the issue of how Germany will cope with the influx of immigrants which brought way over a million refugees into the country since the Chancellor opened and in fact abandoned Germany´s borders in September 2015, supported not only by her own governing parties, but also by the opposition, and (let´s not forget!) by a majority of the population, let alone the media.
The days of collective enthusiasm are long gone, policies have been adapted and changed gradually, indicating that mistakes have been made and rectified, and yet the established parties seem to make a conscious effort not to talk about the new realities. Granted, it´s difficult to talk about your own mistakes when campaigning, but what if that´s the only way to connect with your electorate, rather than talking over their heads?
Some uncomfortable facts on this just out: Integrating the refugees will take long and cost a lot. Only 10 per cent of them have a university degree, 40 per cent are without vocational training, some 60 per cent are without school-leaving qualifications. Making them part of the German labour market will cost billions.
The number of immigrants suspected of crime has increased by 50 per cent in 2016 compared to the year before. Serious crime is on the rise again, and immigrants are implicated above average on charges of bodily and sexual assault and rape, in many cases inflicted on members of their own community.
German law enforcement agencies are also clear that the number of immigrants suspected of terrorist activities is rising, and the claim that there is no connection between immigration and risk of terrorist attacks is without foundation, according to them.
The reality of life in Germany is different to what it used to be two years ago. People feel it every day. Yet, the established parties fighting for their share in the election fail to engage the voters on the issue that, arguably, concerns them most.
There is a risk in that. The risk that people will turn away from the established parties and turn to an alternative. In Germany´s case, that would be the xenophobic, populist, rightist AfD party, or “Alternative for Germany”. They are on the rise again in the polls, presently between 8 and 10 per cent, and they usually perform better in the end than the pollsters predicted. Don´t blame me if that were to happen again on September 24.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
With over 25 years’ experience in journalism, political communications, and consulting, Mr. Kothé advises companies seeking relevant impact with politics and politicians. He founded FTI Consulting’s public affairs practice in Berlin in 2010. Previously, he served as spokesperson for German Federal President Horst Köhler. He also headed the communications and media team of the German liberal party, FDP. Starting his career in journalism at the BBC’s World Service in London, Mr. Kothé has also worked as a senior parliamentary correspondent for Germany’s news channel n-tv.