A year after German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s doors to tens of thousands of refugees stranded across southern Europe with the now-famous declaration, “We can do it!,” she’s fighting for her political life. Her popularity has sunk to a five-year low. The far right is ascendant. And her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and political allies attack her daily. Even her leftist coalition partner, the unpopular Social Democrats, have turned on her, claiming that “she” (they’re in the government, too, after all) has done too little to assuage the upsurge of German angst over the country’s stance on refugees.
This month, Merkel and the CDU were dealt a stunning blow when, for the first time, a far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), came out ahead of the CDU in a regional election. A year prior to national elections—in which Merkel has not committed to running—the German political establishment is in turmoil.
The irony is that Merkel’s government has, to a large degree, succeeded both in stemming the flow of refugees to the country and in processing and accommodating the asylum-seekers who have reached it. This time last year, many thousands of people were arriving in an unprepared Germany each day, from countries across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans. Columns of migrants marched across fields and down highways. Families settled in overflowing camps or slept under the stars in major cities. Last year, 1.1 million refugees entered Germany. But so far this year, only 226,000 people have applied for political asylum; in June, only 20,000 did so.