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All at sea with Seehofer

Posted by Mad Mitch on UTC 2018-06-20 13:23.

Last week Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern, 'Christian Social Union in Bavaria') in Germany, threw his toys out of his pram and bawled at Mutti (Frau Kanzlerin Merkel, to you) that unless she stopped all asylum seekers crossing the German border IMMEDIATELY he, as Interior Minister, would jolly well do it HIMSELF. Just like that. Well, OK then – not immediately: by NEXT MONDAY. It's now Wednesday. OK, then: IN TWO WEEKS!

The literary types who hang around this website may be thinking of Violet Elizabeth Bott in the William books – and in that they would not be wrong: only the threat to vomit was missing from Seehofer's performance.

FoS image, size 708x395

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU, standing) and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU, in pushchair). Image: PI-News.

Growing discontent

Wise heads in the German media began scratching their wise pates. Why now? What is so urgent about this problem that it has to be resolved in three days? The last ultimatum issued in Germany was… Never mind – it was all such a long time ago.

In fact, the flow of immigrants and particularly asylum seekers into Germany has been reducing since its peak a couple of years ago, when Mutti put up the sign 'HUDDLED MASSES WELCOME' on every border. True, there have been some disgusting crimes committed by some of the new 'Merkelbürger', crimes that are now being reported more openly than has often been the case up to now.

The flow may have reduced, but the quantity is still present and causing upset. Advising women never to go jogging alone (at any time of the day) didn't go down too well. Then a stone was turned over to reveal the wriggling facts of the appalling chaos in the administration of the Office of Migration at regional and federal level, an organization which frequently waved through applicants without even a cursory processing. It only requires the presence of one sympathiser in an office to have a legion of foreigners validated on the nod. Even the fans of immigration in Germany had to accept that the government had really very little idea who was entering the country – not even their ages.

Well, all that didn't help the general mood in the country either. Nor the occasions when the German police – normally so butch in the pursuit of traffic offenders – preferred to show their feminine side when dealing with mobs of asylum seekers: 'THE NASTY MEN TOOK MY GUN! Bwhaaahh Whaaa! PLEASE CAN I HAVE IT BACK? PLEASE!? GIVE IT BACK AND I'LL GO AWAY – PROMISE.'

In contrast, your author can recall an incident three decades ago in which a German news magazine printed a photograph of two German policemen holding a man face down over the bonnet of the police car and holding their pistols to his head. Outraged, the magazine brought the photo to the attention of the regional police chief and asked him to comment on what he thought was wrong with the arrest: 'One of the officers is not wearing his cap'.

Bit by bit, migration has bubbled up to the top of the news agenda in Germany, despite the best efforts of the established media to keep the lid on it. The success of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland, 'Alternative for Germany'), PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, 'Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West') and the many local action committees that are now popping up like mushrooms after an autumn shower is forcing the mainstream media to acknowledge the existence of popular feelings on the subject without simply sneering at them, which is what they have done for a decade at least. Immigration and asylum have now become permissable topics of discussion.

No surprise, then, that Seehofer's tantrum polled 71% support among Bavarians. Pity he won't do anything about it.

Going with the flow

Seehofer's CSU is an exclusively Bavarian party. It has a longstanding agreement with the CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, 'Christian Democratic Union of Germany') not to field candidates in elections outside Bavaria and in turn the CDU does not field candidates in Bavaria. Historically, the CSU has been the party of Bavarian identity, firmly right of centre, firmly conservative and firmly Christian. Since 1966 (with one exception) the CSU has delivered a rock-solid outright majority in Bavaria. It is this majority – that rarity of proportional representation systems – which is the dowry it brings to its marriage with the CDU. The pairing is simply known as 'the Union'.

The solid marriage that the Union once was has become over the last decade more like the Odd Couple. Chancellor Merkel has taken her CDU in directions that no one would have dreamed it would go – on immigration, on law and order, on energy etc. etc. – and not only did the previously solidly conservative CDU go along with it all (which was surprising) but the CSU did, too (which was astonishing). Merkel's reputation as being able to walk on water politically was sealed.

In recent years Seehofer has occasionally stamped his foot for the benefit of his core audience, but the shoe never seemed to make contact with the ground. Only a weak sigh was to be heard, and that only in Bavaria. Despite all the grumbling, every Merkel measure was nodded through by the pliant Seehofer, earning him the nickname 'Drehofer', 'Turnaround-Hofer'.

In the recent shambolic negotiations over the unworkable 'Jamaica Coalition' that followed the Federal Election last year, it was the small FDP party, the Liberals, who finally pulled the plug on the buffoonery of those talks. It became known that Seehofer had simply been nodding in affirmation at all the more lunatic policies demanded by the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, 'Social Democratic Party of Germany') and the Greens, particularly on immigration. This wasn't a coalition negotiation, it was merely a roll-over-and-tickle-tummy event.

An opposition arises

Up to now in Bavaria the CSU has only had half-serious opposition from the SPD. There are almost no circumstances in which the average CSU voter would vote SPD. Oil and water. But in the last few years the AfD has entered onto the German stage – and they are more CSU than the CSU has been in a very long time: a sense of identity, of belonging, of Christian values, of Heimat and its conservation.

When the left and their compliant media hurl insults at the AfD for their 'extreme right-wing' policies – and that's the politest formulation – the AfD simply points out that their policies today were the mainstream policies of the CDU and CSU only a few decades ago. The AfD has not gone to the right, the right has veered markedly to the left.

This statement is not rhetoric: thirty years or so ago your author and his family, all in possession of residence permits, were threatened by a low level civil servant with prompt, root-and-branch ejection from Germany on the basis of an administrative technicality; a technicality that was only overturned by a further technicality after several expensive court battles. It was all taken so seriously then, this immigration business. Nowadays – who cares?

Politically, the unthinkable has happened. Seehofer has been able to twist and turn for years because he knew his core voters would not desert him, simply because they had nowhere else to go. Even now the CSU is playing the smoke-and-mirrors game with its voters: the head of the party in Bavaria talks tough, as does Turnaround-Hofer, but ultimately the pass has already been sold to the left-wing and the EU consensus.

But now Bavarian voters do have somewhere else to go, the AfD, and although tribalism is a strong and unpredictable force in Bavaria, the AfD has a reasonably good chance of causing the CSU to lose its absolute majority in the Bavarian elections in October. It will, though, be an uphill struggle for the AfD, because the party's roots are largely in the Protestant or even atheist states of the former East Germany. Can Bavarian voters jump over their innate Catholicism in order to elect a non-Catholic? An atheist, even? That would be a first in itself. Who knows?

If Turnaround-Hofer does not make good on the immigration restrictions about which he has been shouting in the last few days, his party will be hammered in Bavaria in October. A loyal CSU supporter is one thing, a complete patsy is another.

If… if… if… we are now moving into an area of the unknown, yet another dose of the mysterious thing called voting that has made such fools of us in the past. A piece of humble-pie: let's not forget that so marvellous are our predictive powers that we had no idea about last week's 'crisis' until it crashed around our ears and media outlets around the globe were announcing the end of Germany.

Hold on tight to Mutti, she knows what Great Aunt EU wants

But the reality is that Seehofer can do nothing at all – nothing whatsoever – his tantrum is entirely for political show. More and more Germans are beginning to notice that what they or their country thinks is not really the point any more: the European Union is leading the dance. The EU is a single country containing a few statelets whose policy has to bend to the general will.

The European Parliament has already accepted changes to the 'Dublin III Directive' that will allow asylum seekers to choose the country that is to be responsible for them. Up to now, the country of their entry has been automatically responsible for them – we have seen and are seeing the chaos that this has caused in the Mediterranean countries in particular.

Under the new dispensation an asylum seeker can get off the boat in Italy, announce that his best friend lives in Dortmund and be on the train to Germany within hours. Embarrassingly for the CSU, even their MEPs voted for these changes. They are now protesting that they were tricked into voting the way they did. Bless! The changes will come up for ratification by the European Council around the end of this month.

Merkel just has to wait until then. The new anti-immigrant mood in Italy in particular is having political repercussions that could even lead to Italy's exit from the EU. Some act of solidarity cannot be avoided. After the meeting Merkel will have her open door policy restored and her Interior Minister Seehofer will have to suck it up or let someone else do the job. He simply will not be able to impose restrictions on asylum seekers crossing the German border. Who knows what Bavarian voters will think of that?

Turnaround-Hofer is a fool, there is no politer way of putting it. Panicked by the AfD in Bavaria he threw his untimely tantrum on an unwinnable issue – and is now forced to watch resentfully as Mutti and the other adults just ignore him. The AfD is not only an opponent of uncontrolled immigration, it is also profoundly eurosceptical, meaning that Seehofer's tantrum has also ticked both of these AfD boxes for the conservative voters of Bavaria.

We shall see. So far, though, our great principle seems to be holding: 'in German politics, nothing ever changes'. But for how long?