Germany's populist, anti-immigrant AfD Party placed third in the recent elections, but judging by some recent by the newly-formed German government, they may as well have won.
Last Friday Germany's new Interior Minister Horst Seehofer - a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CSU Bavarian allies who are further to the right than her own Christian Democrats - declared that "Islam does not belong to Germany", contradicting former German president Christian Wulff who fueled a debate over immigration in 2010 by saying "Islam was part of Germany" and also set out hardline immigration policies in his first major interview with Bild published last week.
He also said that he would classify more states as "safe" countries of origin, which would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers. The statements - an obvious attempt to court populist voters - come after Merkel’s conservatives, and their coalition allies - the Social Democrats - lost ground to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in elections last year.
As Reuters noted, Seehofer was particularly keen to show his party is tackling immigration ahead of Bavaria’s October regional election, when the AfD is expected to enter that state assembly. “Of course the Muslims living here do belong to Germany,” Seehofer said before going on to say Germany should not give up its own traditions or customs, which had Christianity at their heart. “My message is: Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us,” he said.
In an amusing response from Andre Poggenburg, head of the AfD in the eastern state of Saxony, he said that Seehofer was copying his party with a view to Bavaria’s October regional election: “Horst Seehofer has taken this message from our manifesto word for word,” he said.
Well, we imagine Andre will be even angrier when over the weekend Seehofer again caused controversy by calling for national border controls, just as the EU wants them to be eased: "the EU was failing to control the external border" Germany's new interior minister said.
"Not that many border points in Germany are permanently occupied," Seehofer told German weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, adding: "We will now discuss whether that needs to change."
Seehofer also appealed for the suspension of the Schengen Agreement, which allows free movement within the EU bloc: "Internal border checks [between EU member states] must be in place so long as the EU fails to effectively control the external border," he said quoted by Deutsche Welle, adding: "I don't see it being able to do this in the near future."
In short, long gone are the days of Merkel's "Open Door" policy which directly resulted in the sharp drop in support for Merkel's ruling coalition.
Germany's temporarily reintroduced border controls continue until May 12 and have been imposed on the land border with Austria and on flight connections from Greece because of the "security situation in Europe and threats resulting from the continuous secondary movements," according to the European Commission.
Seehofer's comments follow EU demands in February that Germany and four other Schengen members — Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway — lift their border controls when the current agreed terms run out in May.
Germany was the first EU country to reintroduce internal controls in September 2015 when the country was flooded with over 1 million middle-eastern immigrants, mostly Syrian refugees. Authorities opened checkpoints along the border with Austria through which tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa were entering Germany.
But wait, it gets better.
In a stunning rebuke of Brussels hypocrisy, Seehofer also accused the EU of adopting an unhelpful and "lecturing tone" toward countries in eastern Europe over plans to distribute refugees throughout the bloc. He said a more productive approach could see eastern European countries sending more personnel to the external border or providing more financing for the border in exchange for accepting fewer refugees.
The 68-year-old former Bavarian premier is one of the most conservative senior members of the Merkel's new coalition government with the Social Democrats. At this rate he may become the head of the AfD by the next elections...