It seemed last night that a nationalist, anti-immigration party has outpolled Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in a region known as her political base, which is a result with ramifications for all Europe.
The indications as of yesterday evening were only based on exit polls, but such polls (unlike polls during a campaign) tend to be accurate. It was predicted that the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party had won up to 22% of the votes in the state legislature contest in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, while the Chrisitan Democrats had won around 19%.
AfD is a new grouping in a country that has been so traumatised by its Nazi past that it has not had any electorally successful far right groups since 1945. Very few nations are as honest about their past wrongdoing as Germany has been about Hitler’s era. AfD is not far right and could more accurately be described as hard right or traditional conservative.
A better parallel with the AfD-Christian Democrats would be Ukip and the Conservatives than the BNP and the Conservatives.
AfD’s success has come in a local election, which is often a forum for protest votes.
Even so, it is a major development, given the high standing of Mrs Merkel prior to the migrant crisis, and given the strong support for EU in Germany.
Mrs Merkel’s promise last year to welcome hundreds of thousands of migrants was noble and admirable but it did exacerbate the numbers who came.
The results show that the rise of Brexit and, prior to that, Ukip was not merely an isolated ‘Little Englander’ phenomenon. Concerns about immigration are felt across Europe.
Such concerns can co-exist with compassion for desperate people who are trying to reach Europe.
This is a complex problem that will be solved by neither extreme response: either fully opening the floodgates or trying to make them entirely watertight.