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Opinion

Opinion: Welcome to the club, Germany!

Now it's official: Germans are just as likely to vote for right-wing parties as anyone else in the EU. To get an idea of what will happen next, just look to France for inspiration, writes DW's Max Hofmann in Brussels.

So Germany is no exception. For decades Europe's biggest country and economic powerhouse seemed immune to right wing populism à la Front National in France. While Fidesz took over in Hungary, the Law and Justice Party in Poland, the UK's government had its hands full fighting off UKIP and the Freedom Party of Austria constantly boasted over 20 percent of the vote for decades, most Germans seemed to follow the big traditional people's parties like the CDU, no matter what Chancellor Merkel did.

Those days are now over.

Trying to preserve power

France actually knows a thing or two about what happens when a right wing party continuously garners more than 20 percent of the vote. It means that the two big political parties, the Conservatives and the Socialists, need to support each other to prevent the Front National from claiming any significant power. For the general electorate this blurs the lines between the two established parties. Originally they were set up to be opposing poles of the political system. But now their message is no longer about issues, it's about preserving power in the face of the Front National. By having to join forces, they erode their base. It's a real democracy-killer.

Deutsche Welle Studio Brüssel Max Hofmann

Max Hofmann is DW's Brussels bureau chief

It might have taken German voters longer than the French but they have now shown their true right-wing potential, at least in some regions. This is another blow, maybe the final one, to a European solution to the refugee crisis. Look to France again. President Francois Hollande has been reluctant to welcome a significant number of refugees, not wanting to add more fuel to the fire the Front National is lighting over the migration crisis. Expect Merkel to do the same now, maybe not rhetorically because it would discredit everything she's fought for in the past months, but certainly in deeds.

Merkel is already adjusting

The German chancellor can no longer afford to take in hundreds of thousands of migrants or even to give the impression she's sticking to her "open door policy." Of course she knows that, and the feeling in Brussels for a while now has been that she's only paying lip service to her strategy of the past. In reality she's adjusting gradually. That's why's she's throwing all her weight behind a deal with Turkey, hoping that the Turks really can keep the refugees from coming. If they can't, Europe's right-wing populists will continue to feed off of the crisis. They already are one of the biggest threats to the European Union.

The German chancellor has been losing steam and support on the European stage for quite some time. But after the elections in three German states she's officially weakened at home as well. Even if the elections were only on a regional level, the results will not go unnoticed in countries like Hungary or Poland, longstanding opponents of Merkel's migration policy. They have even less reason to cooperate now on issues like the fair relocation of refugees in the EU. Indeed, the only support she might get in the future is a pat on the back from the French president, saying "Welcome to the club!"

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