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The dark side of Germany

After the last state elections in the Federal Republic of Germany the populist right and antiEurope party “Alternative für Deutschland” [Alternative for Germany] (AfD) has entered further
state parliaments and underlined their status as an established party – Does Europe now need to
worry about Germany?

The majority of the political parties in the European Parliament supports the idea of the European
Union. Nevertheless, after the 2014 elections, euroskepticism did enter the European Parliament.
Today there are indeed also anti-Europe parties which are often classified as populist-right parties
(Mudde 2007; Canovan 2004), for example Front National from France, Lega Nord from Italy, UKIP
from the United Kingdom or the Sweden Democrats from Sweden and many more. They are
organized in the fractions of “Europe of Nations and Freedom” (ENF), Europe of Freedom and Direct
Democracy” (EFDD) and “European Conservatives and Reformists” (ECR). Remarkable in this case
is the fact that it does not exist a common fraction for all EU-skeptics which could be explained by
the diverse forms of Euro(pe)-Skepticism (Grabow/Hartleb 2013: 37).
However, compared with all the Member States named above, where populist right-wing parties seem
to be established, Germany, as one of the leading countries in the EU, has not been touched
significantly by these anti-European developments until the last European elections and the last stateelections in Germany in 2016. These two important political moments marked the rise of the
“Alternative for Germany” (AfD), which ended these times of a political space without anti-Europe
parties.
The following article gives an overview about history, programmatic issues and elections results of
the AfD and at least It will try to make expectations for the future.

 

History, ideas and disputes

How did everything begin? Of course there are and there were right-populist and anti-Europe
parties in Germany, i.e. the National Democratic Party (NPD), The Republicans (REP) or the
islamophobic Pro-Movement (PRO). But none of them has never reached only one seat in the
federal parliament. Every time when a german right-populist party had some success in stateelections – they fade away as soon as they came up (Decker 2004: 148; Herth 2014: 26). So
the German Political Science was relaxed as they noticed the foundation of the AfD 2013 by
the Economic professor Bernd Lucke.

At the beginning the AfD was a so-called “one-issue party”, primarily focused on the crisis-
politics of Angela Merkel. The AfD claimed for example the exit from Germany out of the Euro
and the Economic and Monetary Union and it was against paying for the European Stability
Mechanism. Moreover, the party strongly supported the idea of a common financial market only
with countries from the northern Europe – so called “healthy countries”. And next to that topic,
one can find first nationalist, xenophobic and ultra-conservative points in the first party program.

AfD’s members also contributed to create an atmosphere against the established parties
and the European Union and proclaimed more influence for the “real” citizens by the use of direct
democracy. They used populist communication strategies with oversimplifications and
polarization in political debates and the media attention was solely focused on the head of the
party, Bernd Lucke. Moreover, the party was supported by many academics and people from the
“upper-class”, the economic- and the media- sector or as well from former partisan activists –
people that just have influence in the German society: For example Olaf Henkel (former president
of the German industrial Association (BDI) or the former CDU-politicians Alexander Gauland
and Horst Hemzal.

 

Between anti-europe and anti-migration – AfD tries to find itself

However, in summer 2015 the AfD has been split up. This is important for understanding
the present status of the party. The reason for the division was that an increasing numbers of
members started to support totally right-wing ideas. A new nationalist wing had established in the
party. The more economic-liberal wing, led by the founder Bernd Lucke, left the AfD and
founded a new party named ALFA, which has no more influence in Germany today.

The result of the splitting-up was a new programmatic approach: next to the anti-Europe
attitude, which still exists, the party underlines now a harder nationalist and anti-migration point
of view. The current program says for example: “More children than mass-immigration”,
“German culture than multiculturalism”, “imported cultural drifts are a danger for our culture”,
they are speaking of an “expiration of the European cultures” because of the current refugee
crisis. The AfD proclaims furthermore a “complete close-down of the European borders” and “a
limit the free movement of persons in the EU” to prohibit the exploitation of the German welfare
system (see all in Alternative für Deutschland 2016). The top of that new programmatic approach
was a statement from Frauke Petry, one of the new leaders of the AfD, in January 2016 as she
said, it should be allowed, that police officers can shot at refugees when they want to enter the
country (Beale 2016).

Besides that one still find clear anti-Europe attitudes in the program: the AfD is indeed
claiming the “reintroduction of the Deutsche Mark (former German currency)” as well as the
necessity of changing the European Treaties making it easier for the Member states to leve the
EU. To put it in their own words: “we want a sovereign Germany that guarantees Freedom and
security and wealth for its citizens.” (Alternative für Deutschland 2016)

 

Newest surveys: 10 % would vote for AfD – Are they established?

So what do the voters say in Germany? How did and do people in Germany react on the AfD? In
2013, shortly after their foundation, the AfD got 4,7 % in federal elections. Only 0,3% were
missing for entering the parliament (Bundestag). In 2014 in the EP-election the AfD reached
7,1%, hence 7 seats (because of the splitting-up there is now only one AfD-member in the EP, the
rest has changed to ALFA or is without a fraction). In Addition to that, the AfD entered first state
parliaments in 2014 in Brandenburg, Thüringen and Sachsen-Anhalt – all located in the eastern
part of Germany.

In 2015 the AfD came in the first western parliament in the city-states Hamburg and
Bremen and in spring 2016 the AfD reached 15,1% in Baden-Württemberg, 12,6% RheinlandPfalz and 24,3% in the east located Sachsen-Anhalt where it is now the second major party. Still,
also the parliament in Sachsen-Anhalt has voted an AfD-member for the deputy-president of the
parliament.

Year Election Results in % Seats in Parliament
2013 Federal-Election (Bundestagwahl) 4,7 0
State-Election (Essen) 4,1 0
2014 EP-Election 7,1 7
State-Election (Brandenburg) 12,2 11
State-Election (Sachsen) 9,7 14
State-Election (Thüringen) 10,6 11
2015 State-Election (Bremen) 5,5 4
State-Election (Hamburg) 6,1 8
2016 State-Election (Baden-Württemberg) 15,1 23
State-Election (Rheinland-Pfalz) 12,6 14
State-Election* (Sachsen-Anhalt) 24,3 25
2013-2016 Average 10,1 11 (10,6)

Overview about election-type and results of the AfD in Germany. * Second major party in parliament
To sum up: the AfD is now represented in 8 out of 16 state parliaments in Germany, on average
they get 10% of the votes which means nearly 11 seats in a parliament. The newest survey from
FORSA (13.04.2016) says: if now were elections for the federal Parliament, 10% of the
Germans would vote for the AfD (http://www.wahlrecht.de/umfragen/forsa.htm).

What can we say about the future? First, the AfD can be seen as established. After a long
abstinence of anti-Eeurope/right-populist parties Germany has now and will have in the future
that kind of a question to reckon with, although the AfD is still not present in the Bundestag.
The “fanbase” for these kind of parties exists in Germany, like in entire Europe. Second, the
AfD and the other populist parties in Europe will increase their influence in their national partysystems and in Europe as long as Europe will not find common and european solutions for
major problems like the financial or refugee crises. Third, Europe must worry about Germany
and the AfD in the same way as Europe worries about the Front National, Lega Nord and the
other populist-right parties. As a result of that, established and old parties, like the social
democrats or the conservatives, must underline more intensively that the only solution for a
future in wealth is more Europe instead of less, more Europe instead of a fallback in old
nationalist habits.

Michael Herth

 

References

Alternative für Deutschland (2016): Grundsatzprogramm [main program for the upcoming party congress], in: Homepage of the AfD: URL: https://www.alternativefuer.de/bpt-stuttgart/  (04/2016).

Beale, Charlotte (2016): German Police should shoot refugees, says leader of AfD party Frauke  Petry, in: Independent online: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/german-police-shouldshoot-refugees-says-german-party-leader-a6844611.html (04/2016).

Canovan, Margaret (2004): Populism for political theorists? in: Journal of Political Ideologies,  (9/3), pp. 241-252.

Decker, Frank (2004): Der neue Rechtspopulismus [The New Right-Populism], second edition, Opladen.

Grabow, Karsten / Hartleb, Florian (2013): Mapping Present-day Right-wing Populists, in: Grobows, Karsten/ Hartleb, Florian (Ed.): Exposing the Demagogues. Right-wing and national Populist Parties in Europe, Brussels/Berlin 2013, pp. 13-45.

Herth, Michael (2014): Welche Chancen hat eine populistische Partei im deutschen Parteiensystem? Das Beispiel „Alternative für Deutschland“ [What chances has a populist party in Germany? The example „Alternative for Germany“], unpublished Bachelor-Thesis.

Mudde, Cas (2007): Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe, Camebridge