This article originally appeared in the printed edition of The Sunday Telegraph on 24 July 2016.

26 July 2016

Political thunderstorm brewing in Germany

German politics is a tinder box waiting to explode. Berlin let out a sigh of relief that the Munich killer had no link to Islamic terrorists. But whatever his motives, a political thunderstorm is brewing over the country’s immigration and refugee policies.

A deep collective angst has taken Germany over ever since Angela Merkel decided to open the borders to over a million refugees last summer. The fervent optimism of the “refugees welcome” movement has long since faded, and now people are scared.

Though German politicians will point out this was a “lone wolf” attack that had nothing to do with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, it will still feed into the emerging narrative that Germany’s beloved Mutti (Mummy) made a mistake, and has compromised the security of the nation. The trouble is that the chancellor has a stubborn streak and will not be able to admit her mistake. She will pay the political price, both domestically and in the EU.

Though Germany has been relatively unscathed from jihadist terrorism, the sex assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve combined with the horrors of Paris, Brussels and Nice have entrenched an awful sense of foreboding. More than three quarters of Germans believed a terrorist attack was imminent, according to a poll last week by national broadcaster ZDF.

And it makes sense. The scale of change in Germany is unprecedented and nobody really knows how to talk about it. Net immigration increased by 49 per cent to over two million in 2015. For the first time in Germany’s history, most of the new arrivals are not European – about half are refugees from outside the continent. Legitimate fears over integration, social cohesion and the sheer pace of change have been brushed under the carpet.

Germany’s politicians have yet to have a sensible debate about what this means for the country and its people.The German security services have repeatedly warned that terrorists are disguising themselves as refugees to infiltrate Europe. An emotional Mrs Merkel famously defended her refugee policies last year, saying: “We will manage.” But this is no longer good enough.

Her CDU party’s Bavarian affiliate, the CSU, last year threatened to pull its ministers out of her cabinet unless she reversed her policies. Horst Seehofer, the CSU leader, called Mrs Merkel’s position a “rule of injustice” – a politically loaded phrase normally used for dictatorships or oppressive regimes such as the German Democratic Republic.

Meanwhile, a resurgent far-Right is capitalising on Mrs Merkel’s open-door policies. Alternative für Deutschland, a party of professors founded to oppose Germany’s eurozone bailout policies, was hijacked last summer by members of its anti-immigrant wing. Since then, AfD – which has links to the anti-Islamic Pegida movement – has regularly polled as Germany’s third-largest party and will likely smash the 5 per cent threshold to enter the Bundestag in 2017.

It has already shaken up the political landscape, making dramatic gains in regional elections in March. In Saxony-Anthalt, the AfD gained 24.4 per cent of the vote, becoming the second largest party behind the CDU. Its leader, Frauke Petry, who has called on police to shoot illegal immigrants at the German border, tweeted last night: “If this is ‘normal 2016’ then I don’t want to be normal anymore! #voteafd.”

EU bloc divided

Then there is the price Mrs Merkel will pay with the rest of Europe. She will not admit she miscalculated massively last summer, and ever since has been pushing for a “European solution”, but has lost a huge amount of political goodwill along the way.

Her standing has been particularly damaged by Berlin’s insistence on a mandatory quota to redistribute refugees round Europe.

The quota was pushed through the European Council via a qualified majority vote – which pitted Merkel against most of the EU. The central and eastern European countries have not only not forgiven her – they have simply refused to play ball.

Mrs Merkel is also the prime architect of the EU’s controversial deal with Turkey. Given recent events in that country, this deal looks close to collapsing and is hugely unpopular with the German public.

Mrs Merkel will now be fighting for her political survival. But unless she levels with the German people and starts talking honestly about immigration, she is unlikely to survive.