In February, the Essen food bank Essener Tafel makes headlines when it comes under fire for, and is finally pressured to reverse, a policy of turning away non-citizens, claiming foreigners with a “give-me gene” and a lack of German “queuing culture” had come to make up over 75% of their clientele. Other food banks distance themselves from these comments, and politicians including Angela Merkel make statements of condemnation. According to a different perspective, the real problem goes beyond racism: namely, the food bank was not originally conceived as a charity for pensioners and low-income earners, and not for refugees, who should receive sufficient support from the government that they do not have to rely on food banks.
The Turkish-German journalist Deniz is released from imprisonment without charge by Turkey and arrives in Berlin on February 16. He now faces an indictment by Turkish prosecutors carrying a sentence of 18 years.
On March 14, Merkel is sworn in and another grand coalition between the SPD and CDU/CSU is officially announced, after SPD members had voted with a 66% majority in favor of joining 10 days earlier. The CDU’s conservative Bavarian sister party, the CSU, leverages the talks to pull migration and border policy to the right, taking issue with the Merkel government’s temporary opening of the border in 2015 and threatening the coalition if stricter border controls are not adopted. Although CSU leader Horst Seehofer declared in July that the conflict between the CDU and CSU was resolved, the conflict over refugee policy continues to rage on.
The general European trend of the decline of traditional centrist political parties continues in Italy’s parliamentary elections, where the right-wing nationalist Lega Nord and anti-EU populist Five Star Movement come out big winners and form a far-right coalition government with the Five Star Movement at its head. On July 1, the coalition is sworn in under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and Italy enters a collision course with the EU on questions of both economic and migration policy. =
The deadly poison attack in early March against the Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia in Salisbury, England causes international tensions to flare, particularly between the UK and Russia, with diplomatic consequences. Russia and the UK each expel dozens of diplomats from their respective countries. In addition, the EU and other Western countries, including the United States, affirm the UK position and expel a total of 110 Russian diplomats.
On April 12, the last annual Echo Music Awards take place. Among other winners, the German music industry’s most important awards ceremony honors rappers Farid Bang and Kollegah, whose lyrics had mired them in controversy. The Federal Music Industry Association (BVMI) released a statement after the awards ceremony announcing the end of the Echo award, claiming that such a prize can never be allowed to serve as “a platform for anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, or the trivialization of violence.” The discussion surrounding accusations of anti-Semitism against the rappers had already reached a fever pitch in the run-up to the awards.
The Social Democrats undergo a change at the helm when Andrea Nahles as becomes their first female party chair on April 22.
Protests erupt in Bavaria in response to a heavily contested amendment to that that state’s policing regulations vastly expanding powers of surveillance and detention.
On June 1, Bavaria’s “cross decree” stipulates that crosses must be displayed in all of the conservative Southern state’s public buildings, sparking debate nationwide in the wake of Seehofer’s comment that “Islam does not belong to Germany,” repeating a central slogan of the far-right Alternative for Germany and putting Merkel at odds with her closest coalition partners on the question of religion and cultural identity. The Catholic Church, as well, has criticized the CSU’s approach.
In June, the migrant rescue ship Lifeline from the humanitarian organization Mission Lifeline is blockaded for days when no EU government is willing to grant entry to the 230 migrants the ship had saved from the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. Finally, the ship is allowed to dock in Malta, and the captain is ordered to appear in court to address alleged problems with the ship’s registration. Also in June, another Mediterranean humanitarian vessel, the Aquarius, is similarly kept at sea for days before being permitted to dock at the Port of Valencia in Spain. Both Malta and Italy had previously refused to take in the refugees.
At the end of June, the EU countries meet in Brussels at a summit on changes to the Common European Asylum System. On July 4, 69 Afghans were deported from Germany. Provoking outrage, Seehofer joked while announcing new border controls, “On my 69th birthday of all days—I didn’t ask for this—69 people were sent back to Afghanistan.”
In mid-May, Mesut Özil draws fire for a photo op in London with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan along with his fellow German national team player of Turkish origin, İlkay Gündoğan. A discourse surrounding accusations of Özil’s divided allegiances continues during Germany’s disappointing World Cup in June, throughout which Özil remains silent before announcing his retirement from the national team on July 22, and accusing the German Soccer Federation (DFB) of racism. The saga leads to a broader debate about everyday racism in Germany, including Germans of color sharing their experiences using the hashtag #MeTwo.
On July 11, the verdict in the NSU trial is handed down, with Beate Zschäpe of the far-right terrorist group National Socialist Underground sentenced to life in prison. Plaintiffs and victims who feel betrayed by the government’s systematic coverup of NSU crimes were disappointed as well in the light sentencing of Zschäpe’s codefendants.
The end of August is marred by a deadly knife attack in Chemnitz in the federal state of Saxony. When it becomes known that the alleged perpetrators were migrants, conservatives and right-wing extremists call for protests that erupt on August 26 and 27 into riots with violent clashes involving conservative protestors, neo-Nazis, counter-protestors, police, journalists, and passersby, with migrants themselves the primary victims. Some describe the violence as a “witch-hunt,” and the Saxon police are heavily criticized for their underwhelming response to the situation despite warnings from Saxony’s branch of the Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s federal domestic security agency.
The hashtag #WirSindMehr (“We are more”) becomes a rallying cry against racism in various outlets, including a major concert. In an interview, the head of the Verfassungsschutz Hans-Georg Maaßen expresses doubt as to the authenticity of a video showing an attack on a migrant during the mayhem in Chemnitz, and faces a firestorm of backlash. When it is revealed that Maaßen had previously expressed concern in his role as head of domestic security about “left-wing radical forces in the SPD,” he is dismissed from his duties. Subsequently, his planned transfer to a senior post in the Interior Ministry caused controversy not least because it was functionally a promotion, and in November he is ushered into retirement.
In Sweden’s parliamentary elections on September 9, despite a significant loss of support to the far-right Sweden Democrats, the governing Social Democrats remain the strongest party.
At the end of September more than 8500 prominent members of German civil society, primarily from the sphere of arts and entertainment, signed a petition calling on Seehofer to resign as Interior Minister.
On September 29, as part of his hotly contested state visit, Turkish President Erdogan participates in the dedication ceremony for the Central Mosque in Cologne. The Mayer of Cologne and North Rhine-Westphalia Minister-President Armin Laschet avoid the dedication ceremony, and notable politicians are absent from the state dinner.
Sahra Wagenknecht, leader of the Left Party in the Bundestag since 2015, founds the controversial “Aufstehen” (“Stand Up”) movement to circumvent parliament and reach across party lines in an effort to move Germany’s politics ostensibly leftward towards a more just and peaceful coexistence. It remains an open question how many people Wagenknecht can mobilize and win over, or whether she may be tripped up by her thoroughly polarizing personality. Moreover, Aufstehen faces serious backlash from the left, including from within her own ranks in the Left Party, on the basis of its alleged concessions to right-wing xenophobia and explicit departure from a left-wing politics of open borders.
At the beginning of October, Saudi journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi is murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Der Friedensnobelpreis 2018 geht unter anderem an die Jesidin Nadia Murad. Sie wurde 2014 Opfer des ISIS im Nordirak. Sie fand Aufnahme im weltweit einzigartigen Hilfsprogramm Baden-Württembergs für jesidische Frauen und Kinder aus dem Nordirak. Seitdem macht sie sich für das Schicksal missbrauchter Frauen und Mädchen stark.
The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to the Yazidi activist Nadia Murad, who was captured by ISIS in northern Iraq in 2014, and was rescued by the German state of Baden-Württemberg’s unique humanitarian program for Yazidi women and children from northern Iraq. Since then, she has campaigned for the welfare of abused women and children.
During the period between January and October 2018, a total of 158,512 people applied for asylum in Germany, which compared to 187,226 applications during the same stretch of the previous year constitutes a decline of 15.3%.
In early October, Jewish members of the AfD found the group “Jews in the AfD,” to the great consternation of leaders in Germany’s Jewish community.
On October 29, Chancellor Merkel announces the end of her political career, declaring that she will neither stand for reelection as CDU chair in December nor serve in any other public office in the future. She will remain Chancellor until 2021.
Seehofer announces that he will step down as chair of the CSU at the beginning of 2019, although he will remain Interior Minister in the coalition government.
On December 7, the new CDU leadership is voted in during the party’s 31st convention. In the second round of voting, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer edges out Friedrich Merz in the race for party chair. Kramp-Karrenbauer, whose politics are conservative including on issues of migration, announces her plan to discuss key policy decisions at a conference of the party leadership in January 2019 and calls for a national debate.
At the end of November, a majority in the Bundestag votes to ratify the UN Migration Pact, which is then adopted at a December meeting in Marrakech, Morocco and sets global guidelines for an international regime to regulate migration and curb illegal migration. Nevertheless, it is hotly debated in other European countries and the US.
To close out the year, on December 31, Israel withdraws from UNESCO, following the United States, which withdrew in 2017 after the administration of Donald Trump accused the organization of anti-Israel bias on account of the membership of the Palestinian Authority, the decision to declare Hebron a Palestinian world heritage site, and references to Israel as an occupying force.