News Digest 21st February

Right-wing extremism: hatred, racism and violence raise fears inside Germany and abroad

On Monday, police arrested a group of right-extremists, who had been planning to carry out a series of attacks on mosques in order to provoke a civil war. In the wake of the arrests, the Deutsche Welle interviewed Abdassamad El Yazidi, the General Secretary of Germany’s Central Council of Muslims, who described an atmosphere of fear amongst Muslims, said that they felt let down by lack of protection, and criticised some politicians for speaking as if the majority of Muslims were against democracy.

These fears were proved justified. The next night, a far-right extremist killed 9 people at two shisha bars in Hanau, near Frankfurt. Later, the body of the gunman and his mother were found in a flat. The victims included people of Turkish origin and the suspected shooter was reported to have published a manifesto in which he called for countries and populations to be eliminated.Before the attack, he published a youtube video with a “personal message to all Americans” and derogatory comments about migrants from Turkey and Arab countries.

Hanau
Hanau Map is CC-BY_SA 2.0 OpenStreetMap

Aiman Mazyek from the Central Council of Muslims in Germany warned that these attackers cannot be called lone attackers anymore, and Chancellor Angela Merkel that “racism is a poison, hate is a poison,” linking Wednesday’s attacks to the murder of CDU politican Walter Lubcke as well as the attack on a synagogue in Halle last year. Watch her statement here. Interior Minister Horst Seehöfer announced an increased police presence at locations such as mosques, trains, stations and airports, and warned that the country should prepare for imitator attacks.

Meanwhile, the Zeit reported that the international press was concerned about the rise of neo-Nazis in Germany, with the Italian ‘La Repubblica’ writing that, “Germany is scaring us again.”

While the political establishment was united in condemning racist hatred, there was also criticism that the rise of rights-wing extremism had not been taken seriously enough in Germany. SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil, for example, said that the security authorities had ignored “what is brewing on the extreme right” for too long. Echoing criticisms of the far-right Alternative for Germany, the AfD, made after the Halle attack, he described the AfD as “the political arm of the extreme right.”

The rise of right-extremists has been causing increasing concern in Germany, with the Office for the Protection of the Constitution reporting a rise in right-extremist violence, an increase in anti-Semitism and a significant potential for the mobilisation of anti-asylum feeling.

More on this story in English from The Guardian and the Financial Times.

Thurginia

The political crisis in Thuringia continued with a series of negotiations aimed at bringing about a functioning government. On Monday, former Left Party Minister President, Bodo Ramelow, made a surprising proposal: that the former CDU leader, Christine Lieberknecht take over a temporary government and organise a new election as swiftly as possible.

However, Lieberknecht rejected the proposal, and counter-proposed a previously rejected alternative: a CDU/Left party coalition with the re-election of Bodo Ramelow as Minister President, in order to avoid a new election.

On Friday evening, a breakthrough was announced: the Left Party, CDU, SPD and Green Party announced that they will elect Bodo Ramelow as Minister President in a new election on 4th March, so that he can head a Left Party-SPD-Green minority coalition (as had been agreed at the beginning of February). The minority coalition will be firstly be able to pass the budget agreed before the October election, and implement other measures; the CDU has agreed not to cooperate again with the AfD and FDP against the minority government. A new state election will be called on 25th April 2021.

Meanwhile polls in Thuringia showed a disastrous loss of support for the CDU following their cooperation with the AfD in electing an FDP Minister-President, Thomas Kemmerich (who resigned after a few days): they have dropped to 14% in the latest polls (down from 21.7% in the election), while the Left Party have shot up from 31% in the election to polling now at 40%.

CDU leadership

Since the announcement that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was stepping down as CDU leader, three candidates have been tipped to challenge to succeed her. Three candidates are expected to throw their hats into the ring: Friedrich Merz, Jens Spahn and Armin Laschet. But on Tuesday, in another surprise, an unexpected candidate became the first to officially announce his candidature: Norbert Röttgen, from North-Rhine Westphalia.

However, it is still unclear whether the race to succeed AKK will be composed of single candidates, or whether the party will announce joint candidatures, as other parties already have, enabling a better regional, interest and gender balance.

A poll for the magazine FOCUS, carried out before Röttgen announced his candidature, showed Merz leading on the question ‘Who would make the best Chancellor?’. He received 26%, with particularly strong support among CDU and AfD supporters – this finding will be encouraging to Merz, who in his 2018 leadership bid, declared his intention of leading the fightback against the AfD. However, the largest category was don’t knows – 46% were undecided. Additionally, more people found Merz to be unlikeable than found him likeable – a problem he has had in the past. With months to go before the leadership election, which is expected to take place in the summer, it’s still wide open.

Hamburg

Another state election is to take place this weekend: On Sunday, 23rd February, voters in Hamburg will go to the polls. Hamburg, one of the remaining bastions of SPD power, currently has an SPD-Green coalition government led by Peter Tschentscher. National Finance Minsiter Olaf Scholz, who was recently defeated in his bid to become SPD leader, was mayor of Hamburg until March 2018.

The SPD in Hamburg is doing considerably better than the party nationally. In the 2015 state election, the SPD won over 45% of the vote, although it lost its overall majority. Bucking the national trend, the SPD is currently polling between 34% – 39% in Hamburg, less than in 2015, but far more than the 14-15% share of the national party.

An excellent Financial Times article on the issues in Hamburg and the status of the SPD can be found here.

This week in Berlin

Parliament was not sitting this week, but announcements for new laws and regulations and for laws coming into force this week included:

Cabinet approval for a draft law against right-extremism and hate: this package of measures was developed in reaction to the attack on a synagogue last year in Halle and includes requirements for social media networks to report hate and a new police department to deal with this; fines for inadequate reporting; and greater punishments for anti-Semitic hate.

Protection for homosexuals pressured to undergo conversion therapy: no conversion therapy for minors is to be allowed at all, and for adults who do not willing want to undergo it. Advertising for such therapies is also to be banned.

New regulations against the misuse of weapons: provisions included greater documentation of weapons and their constituent parts, and new reporting requirements.

What’s coming up

23rd February

Election in Hamburg

2nd – 6th March

Next sitting week for Parliament

4th March

Planned election of Minister President in Thuringia

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