A former German Cabinet minister and member of Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc has blamed the Chancellor for steering a course that has strengthened the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and a new anti-immigrant grass-roots movement.
In rare direct criticism of Mrs Merkel, Hans-Peter Friedrich, who was forced to resign as Agriculture Minister in February over leaked information, said she had made a “disastrous mistake” by wooing centre-left voters and ignoring those on the right. Mr Friedrich said voters who had joined the AfD, which has won seats in three state assemblies after shifting its focus from Euroscepticism to concerns about immigration in the past year, felt abandoned by the conservative bloc.
“If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said we will clear them out by taking away their issues. But Mrs Merkel has decided instead to take away issues from the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens,” Mr Friedrich told Der Spiegel. “This is successful in the short term, as the polls show, but in the long run it is a disastrous mistake which can lead to the division and weakening of the conservative camp.”
Mrs Merkel’s deal last year to share power with the centre-left SPD worried some on the right of her party who feared she would move too far left, and Mr Friedrich pointed to SPD initiated policies, such as the introduction of a minimum wage. He also said the Chancellor was partly responsible for the rise of the “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West” movement, with its weekly marches in the eastern city of Dresden which have shocked many Germans. With net immigration at its highest level in two decades, a poll this month showed that a majority of Germans think the Merkel government is paying too little attention to the issue.
“Such opposition comes about if a not insignificant part of society has the feeling it is not represented by the federal parties or at least that it no longer has a relevant vote. If the CDU does not recognise that, the CSU must open its eyes for it,” he said.