The German chancellor won 89.5% of vote in election at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) conference in Essen, with her comments regarding a partial ban of the burka and hijab in particular receiving enthusiastic applause. This new position on such a sensitive issue could be seen to give further legitimacy to the rising nationalism in Western democracies.

  • A change in policy from Merkel
  • Nationalism causing centre right to rethink.
  • Merkel’s plan to stem the tide.

“The full-face veil is not acceptable in our country. It should be banned, wherever it is legally possible.”

Those in her party have frequently courted with the idea of a ban on face veils in the country, yet Merkel is widely known for her policies of tolerance. Her decision, in 2015, to open the doors of Germany to more than a million migrants who were, in the majority, Muslims fleeing unrest and war in the Middle East and Asia, perhaps the greatest example of this.

As recently as September the Chancellor was quoted as saying: “lived diversity is the logical consequence of freedom”. However, the occurrence of four separate attacks on German soil in July this year, in which ten people were killed and dozens injured seems to have turned public opinion definitively. Many of those who were once open to helping those seeking asylum, are now more concerned with domestic security.

While in this light it is not difficult to rationalise Merkel’s perceived change of heart, the growing popularity of the anti-immigrant AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) makes it clear that this was an important decision for the Chancellor.

Nationalism on the Rise

The spate of victories for right wing parties in western democracies, has given Nationalists throughout Europe, belief. Donald Trump’s campaign to win the White House was widely seen as pandering to extreme right views, as does his appointment of Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist after his triumph. Furthermore, Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, has led to the Conservative party using increasingly strong language in its proposals for immigration reform.

As a result, the establishment in France is treating the growth of Marine Le Pen and the National Front’s popularity with extreme seriousness, and Pro-EU candidate Alexander Van Der Bellen required two elections to see off the challenge of far-right Norbert Hofer in Austria.

In such a climate Merkel’s comments, though disturbing to left-leaning observers, could be seen as an attempt to bring those voters whose extreme right status is questionable, back into the centre right, with the hope of nipping the challenge of the AfD in the bud.

Merkel’s Election Campaign Begins

The Chancellor’s statement could easily be seen as inflammatory or aggressive, but according to Gabriele Boos-Niazy, the co-chair of Germany’s Association for Muslim Women the powers to enact the policy are already in place: “Judges in Germany are already able to order someone to take off their veil if they feel it necessary”, she is quoted as saying in the Guardian.

In which case, this is a cunning use of rhetoric by Merkel. She has managed to gain the support of those on the right of her party, without the need for the creation of new policies. Most importantly, those sitting on the fence between the centre and far right, will be far more inclined to listen to, and potentially vote for, her ideas. The question is, will the public be taken in by it?

This is not to say that her statements do not come at a cost. Germany has, since the end of World War 2 been a place in which discrimination has not been tolerated. Merkel has espoused this throughout her reign as Chancellor. While this new stance may provide her and the CDU with the opportunity to be the steady hand that guides Germany through these turbulent and nationalistic times, she should be wary of indulging these controversial views further, at the risk of the modern German identity.