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The most important topic in European politics right now is the relationship between mainstream conservatives and the far right in Germany.
The mainstream Christian Democratic Union (CDU) refuses to cooperate in any way with the far right AfD.
But as the AfD consolidates its position as a major party in eastern states, more and more local and state-level CDU figures are grumbling.
“Why can’t we work with or at least have negotiations with the AfD?” they complain.
The CDU’s last national convention passed a resolution that forbids working with the AfD.
The rationale for the policy is that the AfD isn’t a normal democratic party and mustn’t be treated as a potential coalition partner.
But last week, the deputy caucus leader for the CDU in the state legislature in Thuringia said the party should not rule out working with the AfD.
And this week a group of seventeen CDU officials in the state put out an open letter arguing that their party should not refuse talks with any “democratically elected parties.”
Among the signers are city council members, officials of local CDU committees, and one state legislator.
CDU policy is not going to change because of an open letter put out by a small group of very low-level officials. The national leadership vehemently rejected these officials’ open letter.
But these seventeen dissenters represent some unknown larger number of CDU members and voters who might leave the party over this issue.
The problem isn’t that the CDU might fall apart (it won’t), but that its position in the polls, already durably south of thirty percent, will continue to worsen, and that this fact, combined with the ongoing struggles of the main center-left party, the Social Democrats (SPD), will make it ever more difficult to form governments that exclude the AfD.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the CDU also refuses to cooperate with the far-left party Die Linke.
Thuringia’s state elections on October 27 produced no mathematically possible majority that excludes both the far left and the far right.
That’s making a way forward in that state difficult to find, and that helps account for the discontent expressed by our seventeen dissenters.
In Saxony and Brandenburg, which held elections September 1, it’s likely we’ll have coalition governments featuring the Greens, the CDU, and the SPD.
But that outcome conceals its own special danger, namely, the fact that the AfD will be able to campaign as the clear opposition to a government of the mainstream parties.
All of this “coalition poker,” to borrow the German phrase, might seem really esoteric and pointless.
I assure you that it is not.
What is being debated here is a truly epochal question: how long can Germany continue to keep the far right from becoming a normal part of the political landscape?
“How much are these people costing us?” (!)
A little bit of what is at stake was apparent in a small item in the trade journal for Germany’s doctors last month, where it was reported that the AfD’s parliamentary caucus had filed an inquiry with the government requesting information on the cost to the economy, through lost labor, of mentally-ill people.
The doctors’ journal noted with outrage that the inquiry smacked of the same thinking that led the Nazis to euthanize 300,000 people who suffered from mental health conditions.
This is a small part of the reason that the open letter by the CDU’s seventeen dissenters in the state of Thuringia is making national headlines in Germany this week.
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