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Pressure on Merkel rising

Kommentarfoto Kay-Alexander Scholz Hauptstadtstudio
Kay-Alexander Scholz
July 25, 2016

What effect will the attacks in Munich, Würzburg, Reutlingen and Ansbach have on Chancellor Angela Merkel? It all depends on whether she plans to run for a fourth term, says DW's Kay-Alexander Scholz.

Angela Merkel and refugees taking selfies Copyright: Reuters/F. Bensch
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

In the wake of the refugee crisis last year, multiple shadows have fallen over the once stellar image of widely popular German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Now, calls that "Merkel has to go" are being uttered nationwide by supporters of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and other critics. Only a year ago that would have been unimaginable. Merkel staged herself as the "refugee chancellor," which won her much respect from some Germans, while others just shook their heads.

These past weeks, this polarized mood had somewhat calmed down. The domestic stress relief went hand in hand quite conspicuously with the vastly lower number of refugees entering Germany after the route across the western Balkans states had shut down. In the media, the topic 'refugees' moved further back. The ratings for Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) rebounded.

Merkel's standing is on the line

Infighting in the AfD party, which poses such a threat to the CDU, came at just the right time for Merkel. The AfD leaders showed that they'd rather go on debating to the death rather than go forward as a team. Opinion polls immediately noted a drop in percentage points.

But now, the string of recent attacks in Germany is a paradigm change. The public sees "Merkel" and "refugees" as linked. Now that refugees are making negative headlines once again, pressure on Merkel is on the rise.

Scholz Kay-Alexander Copyright: DW/Boris Geilert
DW's Kay-Alexander Scholz

Regardless of whether refugees were responsible for the attacks in Würzburg, Munich, Reutlingen and Ansbach, or whether there is an Islamist background - the investigations are still ongoing. Many people won't be able to or want to make the necessary distinctions: foreigners, migrants, refugees, German-Iranians - they're all thrown together. When attacks accumulate the way they have these past days, people's thinking can easily be irrational.

Boost for AfD

The AfD gives voters mental support - recent events have greatly helped the party's political goals. "We always said that uncontrolled immigration is dangerous," AfD politicians say on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Most of all, they blame Merkel for wanting open borders.

Merkel is on holiday in eastern Germany, in the Uckermark region, where she grew up. Of course, she's always on duty. In fact, she isn't likely to relax much. Apart from the violence in Germany, the coup in Turkey and its consequences are unhinging the refugee deal she struggled so hard to eke out with the EU and Erdogan.

A fourth term?

Germans go to the polls in national elections about a year from now. Merkel hasn't said whether she plans to run for another term in office. Her decision is likely to depend strongly on how the refugee situation unfolds. A major terrorist attack like those in Paris and Brussels would make a fourth term less likely.

Where the AfD is concerned, things could get interesting this September. In state elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the AfD could conceivably emerge as the strongest party. At this point, the CDU is still well ahead, but should there be more killing sprees or terrorist attacks, the distance could quickly decrease. By the way, Frauke Petry, the AfD's power-conscious leader, says the power struggle within the AfD will be cleared up over the next few weeks.

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