When Germany’s southern state of Bavaria holds its regional election on Sunday, its ruling Christian Social Union (CSU) is expected to lose its absolute majority—by a lot. The party’s projected losses appear to be part of a much broader trend of political fragmentation across Europe, in which bigger parties are shrinking while smaller parties—especially those on the far right—are growing.
Such has been the case in recent elections in Sweden, Italy, and even in Germany’s general election last year. But in its own way, Bavaria is bucking this trend. Rather than the new main challenger coming from a populist party like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) on the far right, this time it’s coming from a more unexpected source: the pro-immigration Green Party.
Bavaria stands out among German states for its relatively stable politics—it’s been a one-party state, governed by the center-right CSU, for much of the past several decades. So it’s telling about the state of political fragmentation in Germany, and in Europe more broadly, that even there voters are looking for alternatives to the establishment.
It’s also telling that this doesn’t necessarily favor the far right. Bavaria is the German state perhaps closest to the front lines of Germany’s migration crisis; most of the asylum seekers that arrived when Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to welcome more than 1 million people from war-torn Syria and elsewhere in 2015 came through the state, with the result being that Bavaria had to process tens of thousands of people moving through its border with Austria every day. That the Greens—a former protest party now ensconced in Germany’s mainstream center-left—have managed to make gains here shows that divisive immigration politics need not always lead to far-right gains.