Germany’s CSU fears that without a tougher migration policy, the far-right anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will become stronger in Bavaria at its expense. By taking a hard line on migration, CSU hopes to position itself as a strong alternative to the AfD in Bavarian elections.

Bavaria's Christian Social Union is vying to win back voters ahead of October's state election. The CSU is hoping to maintain its absolute majority in the state parliament. However, recent polls suggest this may be hard to come by. Latest figures suggest the CSU will take around 41 percent of the vote — almost 7 percentage points less than in the previous election. The AfD, currently polling at 12 percent in Bavaria, could prove to be one of CSU's main rivals come October.

Most of the CSU's lost voters in the general election migrated to the AfD. The Bavarian party has been vying to win them back since with a marked political shift to the right, particularly on refugees and migration policies. For the CSU, a stronger showing for the AfD in October could mean the end of its dominance over Bavarian politics. Whether or not the CSU succeeds in fending off the AfD electorally, it begs the question of whether, by seeking to outrun the AfD on migration, the CSU is just further legitimizing the far-right’s position on the issue.

The CSU has also focused on tradition and deep cultural roots. In addition to billing itself the most effective protector of Germany’s borders, the second prong of the CSU’s strategy is portraying itself as the sole protector of traditional Bavarian identity and values, arguing that Christian values and symbols should be protected and celebrated as an integral part of Bavaria’s cultural heritage.

There’s an inherent risk in the CSU’s strategy: The further it moves to the right, the more it risks turning off some of its more moderate supporters. CSU leaders argue that the AfD, despite its claims to represent Bavarian culture and tradition, actually stands for the opposite; they draw a distinction between established parties and the AfD, which they accuse of operating outside of democratic norms, despite the fact that it won its support in democratic elections and advocates many of the same policies the CSU promotes.

Should it succeed this fall, the CSU’s strategic experiment in Bavaria — and its increasingly stark contrast with Merkel and the CDU’s message from Berlin — will certainly serve as an example for other traditional parties across Europe that are seeking a roadmap for combating the far-right.

The CSU may well succeed in preventing further defections to the far-right and it could endear itself to anti-immigration voters who chose the far-right AfD last fall. But in many ways, the CSU’s strategy is a short-term fix to a long-term problem: It may keep the AfD from making further gains, but will give credence to hard-line immigration views that are largely indistinguishable from the AfD’s.

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