Commentary on the refugee issue: pity for sigmar gabriel

Sigmar Gabriel’s attempt to position himself somewhere between Seehofer and Merkel on the refugee issue is an expression of pure desperation.

He is left with only a supporting role: Sigmar Gabriel (SPD). Photo: dpa

The political debate has moved to the right in recent months. Even the frontwoman of the Left Party and some Greens suddenly sound like the CSU, and it is striking increasingly shrill notes. But this shift to the right will hardly prevent the AfD from entering the next state parliaments in March – and probably the Bundestag in 2017 as well.

Germany is thus emulating a development that other countries in Europe have long since left behind. Almost everywhere in Western Europe, a right-wing populist party has established itself, upsetting the old post-war balance of power with its left-right balance between social democrats and conservatives. Right-wing populists have risen to become the third popular party in many places – if not, as in Switzerland, even the strongest force.

Conservatives are in danger of being pulverized between these new poles – as in Austria, where they are now only the junior partner in the grand coalition at the federal level and even crashed below 10 percent in Vienna’s city council elections last fall. And in France, it is questionable whether a conservative candidate (Sarkozy?) will make it into the next presidential runoff.

By comparison, the conservatives in Germany are still doing quite well – despite all the current squabbles between Seehofer and Merkel. After all, the CDU/CSU has moved far to the left in recent years and, as a hinge party, is capable of forming coalitions in all directions. The real problem is with the SPD, which has been pushed to the wall by Merkel. Because a left-wing majority in the federal government is becoming ever more remote, the only prospect is to remain chained to the CDU/CSU forever in a grand coalition – and only as a junior partner.

Sigmar Gabriel’s attempt to position himself somewhere between Seehofer and Merkel on the refugee issue is an expression of pure desperation. The best thing that could happen to him would be if the CDU/CSU were to dump Merkel now, out of panic over falling poll ratings. But it doesn’t look like that will happen: Merkel has been the only alternative for the CDU/CSU so far.

That’s why you have to feel sorry for the SPD leader. In a party system that is moving to the right overall, and in the face of a CDU/CSU that is stealing his thunder with its disputes over direction, he is left with only a supporting role.