‘Lack of leadership’: Merkel under fire after far-right gains in regional German election

German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces renewed pressure from within her Christian Democrats after the centre-right party was beaten by the populist, far-right AfD in the Thuringia state election on Sunday.

'Lack of leadership': Merkel under fire after far-right gains in regional German election
The pressure is on Angela Merkel after the Thuringia vote. Photo: DPA

Her conservative critics charge that Merkel has dragged the CDU too far to the left on immigration, climate and other issues, allowing the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) on the extreme right.

A long-time rival who hopes to succeed Merkel, Friedrich Merz, suggested the veteran leader dubbed “Mutti” (mummy) is already a lame duck and should bow out long before she plans to leave politics in 2021.

In his most direct attack yet, 63-year-old Merz said that “for years the chancellor's inactivity and lack of leadership have covered this country like a blanket of fog.

“I simply cannot imagine that this kind of governance will last another two years in Germany,” said Merz, an executive of the German arm of US investment firm BlackRock.

'Barely heard or seen'

Merkel, in power for almost 14 years, has faced heightened pressure ever since 2015 when she decided to keep open German borders to a mass influx of refugees and migrants.

The move earned her much praise but also sparked an angry backlash that fuelled the rise of the anti-immigration and anti-Islam AfD, now the biggest opposition party.

READ ALSO: What does the far-right AfD's success in Thuringia mean for Germany?

Björn Höcke, chairman of the AfD in Thuringia celebrating after the vote. Photo: DPA

In recent months it has topped 20 percent in three state polls in the ex-communist east — most recently Sunday when it narrowly beat Merkel's CDU in Thuringia to second spot behind the far-left Die Linke.

It was the CDU's worst ever result there and seemed to echo the demise of Germany's other mainstream party, the Social Democrats (SPD), which scored just nine percent.

News website Spiegel Online asserted that the state election showed that “the state of the CDU is at least as desolate” as that of the SPD.

READ ALSO: AfD surges to second place in Thuringia state election

The big difference for now was that the CDU remains the party of the chancellor, it said, adding however that “this could easily be missed given that Angela Merkel is barely heard or seen these days”.

'Something must change'

It was after a similar state poll setback last year that Merkel dramatically handed over the CDU leadership to her preferred successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, widely known by her initials AKK.

Friedrich Merz and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer earlier this year. Photo: DPA

AKK in a later vote beat Merz for the party chair's position and more recently also took on the post of defence minister, but in recent months her political star has dimmed.

Doubts about AKK have grown after several blunders and gaffes, including a spat with a YouTube personality, a joke about intersex people and a surprise proposal for a peacekeeping mission to Syria that sparked open discord within
the cabinet.

Tilman Kuban, head of the CDU's youth wing, which leans towards Merz, this week openly asked whether AKK is the right candidate to lead the party.

Another critic who took aim at both Merkel and her crown princess was parliamentary group co-leader Axel Fischer, who called the latest defeat “thelogical consequence of national CDU policies that seems to lack any substance”.

An outsider, the Free Democrats' co-leader Wolfgang Kubicki, put it more bluntly, declaring that Kramp-Karrenbauer simply “lacks the stature” to lead the CDU or run for chancellor.

Things are likely to come to a head toward the end of the year, when the SPD will decide whether to stay in Merkel's coalition or leave, which could spark new elections.

Before then, the CDU will face their own fireworks, at a party congress in late November.

Merz has so far held his fire against AKK, preferring to attack the government as a whole.

“The image of the government is simply abysmal,” he thundered this week, demanding that “something must change”.

By Yacine Le Forestier

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Polish farmers keep German border crossing blocked

Polish farmers blocked a major highway into Germany on Monday, carrying their protest against EU regulations and "uncontrolled" Ukrainian grain imports into its second day.

Polish farmers keep German border crossing blocked

The farmers began their blockade on Sunday, parking their tractors on the A2 motorway near Słubice in western Poland, across the border from the German town of Frankfurt an der Oder.

“We farmers from Poland are here because we are no longer accepting the EU Green Deal regulation,” Christopher Janicki told AFP at the protest.

READ ALSO: Polish farmers block key road into Germany

“We also do not accept the uncontrolled import of grain from outside of the EU,” Janicki said.

Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks over what they say are excessively restrictive environmental rules, competition from cheap imports from outside the European Union and low incomes.

Demonstrations in Poland have responded in particular to inflows of cheap grain into Poland from Ukraine, where exports via the Black Sea have been disrupted by the war with Russia.

“Farmers in Poland have their warehouses full and cannot get rid of their goods” because of lower-priced imports, Janicki said.

“If we can’t sell grain, we can’t make any money, we can’t continue production.”

Protestors also said they were targeting the EU’s so-called Green Deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, an effort which they say has put an unfair burden on farmers.

“We stand in solidarity not only with protesters from Poland, but also with protesters from Germany, France, Spain and every other country where the protests take place,” organiser Dariusz Wrobel told AFP.

The protest at the German border, which began at 1 pm on Sunday, was set to end after 24 hours at the same time on Monday.

The farmers initially planned a 25-day blockade but reduced it following talks with local representatives and businesses.