The Center-Right Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany
Despite only being established on the 6th of February 2013, the AfD’s success is already beyond expectations. The party won 4.7% of the vote in the 2013 federal election, narrowly missing the 5% electoral threshold to sit in the Bundestag. The party won 7 out of 96 German seats in the 2014 European election. The party had broad media coverage and its ranks swelled from 5,000 to 7,500 for half of the year in a ‘tsunami of membership’. Now there are 20 000 members. According to the German magazine Focus, no party, since the formation of the Greens in 1980, has been able to raise as much attention in such a brief period.
In July the party has replaced its proamerican leader with a conservative from the east who wants to place greater emphasis on immigration. A majority of AfD members backed Frauke Petry in the leadership vote against Bernd Lucke. Petry, a 40-year-old businesswoman who previously led the party in the state of Saxony, has accused Lucke of focusing too much on opposing the euro currency. In Britain, the leader of the AfD is called «Germany's Farage», as if alluding to the similarity the positions Euroskeptic Petry and famous leader of UK Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage.
In essence, the AfD sees itself as an alternative to prevailing pro-euro politics among Germany’s mainstream parties. To that purpose, the AfD has three essential aims: «restore democratic values»; reinstate the «state of law»; and return to «economic common sense».
According to former AfD leader Lucke, the single currency was a historic mistake. Market dynamics made some European regions more competitive than others creating a union of unequal partners. Before the introduction of the euro, less competitive countries were able to de-value their currencies to become attractive for investment. This option has become inaccessible to members of the Eurozone. Europe consequently disintegrates into a poor and stagnating southern part and an affluent northern part. Correcting this mistake is the only way out of the current crisis. Petry on the other hand headed a conservative. Last September’s east German state elections saw Petry and her allies on the right of the party campaign on an anti-immigration, and «more children for German families», platform. After the party enjoyed some electoral success in that campaign a months-long power struggle broke out. On one side were Petry’s conservative supporters, on the other Lucke’s who want only to keep de facto pro US opposition to the Euro as the central policy.
On the eve of the First Congress of AFG support to German opponents euros came from an unexpected quarter: with a proposal to Berlin to reflect on the exit from the euro zone acted American billionaire George Soros (George Soros). "Germany has to choose: either accept eurobonds, or get out of the euro", - said Mr. Soros during a lecture in Frankfurt.
The AfD laments that the Stability and Growth Pact, set out in the Treaty of Maastricht and designed to maintain the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) by use of strict fiscal policy that limits government deficit to 3 per cent of GDP and national debt to 60 per cent of GDP, has been breached 80 times without repercussions. The German government under the chancellorship of Gerhard Schröder was the first to do so. Moreover, the ‘No Bail-Out Clause’ that was part of the original treaties and which bound governments to national budget discipline without further liability for other member states has been effectively overridden through the ratification of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in September 2012.
A fundamental reform of European Institutions and the renegotiation of Germany’s relationship with Europe are central themes in the party’s programme. The AfD calls for an end to European centralisation and the repatriation of legislative powers and budget control to national governments. Similar to the vision of (moderate) British Eurosceptics, Lucke’s Europe is a union of sovereign states with a single market. The AfD proposes a ‘politics of common sense’ (Politik des gesunden Menschenverstands) as the response to Europe’s and Germany’s urgent problems. In light of the complex issues at hand and considering the party’s substantial backing from ‘academic intelligence’, this sounds disappointingly simplistic.
The AfD sees itself as the civil society revolting against the ruling class, similar to called «Vormärz». The Vormärz, associated with the struggle of progressive national forces to repel the conservatism following the Congress of Vienna, is an important historical period predating the 1848 revolution. It ultimately led to the formation of the modern German nation. The ideals of the Vormärz are often re-invoked by Germany’s ultra conservatives. The AfD can be located to the right of the centre-right, but it claims to have no ideological grounding. The party spokesmen were also quick to point out that the AfD attracts disenchanted members from the (far) left to the (far) right.
Closer cooperation between the AfD and the ‘Pegida’ movement could reshape the German right. The electoral rise of the AfD was accompanied by the emergence of a grassroots movement of the right which represents something of a novelty in German post-War history. At the core of the programme of the Pegida movement is the protection of «German culture», an end to mass immigration and the perceived «Islamisation» of German society. The movement organised its first protest march in the East German city of Dresden with a turnout of 350 people on 20 October 2014, but grew steadily and reached 17,500 participants on 22 December.
In Dresden, Pegida tries to place itself in the tradition of the protests against the GDR regime in 1989, with «Wir sind das Volk’being chanted («We are the people» – the slogan of the East German civil rights movement). Quickly, similar marches – or ‘strolls» as the movement calls them – were organised throughout Germany, albeit less successfully than in Dresden.
The AfD and Pegida share the same regional strongholds and their supporters are united by unease with recent changes in German society. All German parties besides the AfD remain critical of Pegida. Even though some senior figures, such as Mr Henkel, recommend their party keeps its distance from the movement, there is generally a clear trend towards cooperation between the two groups. Alexander Gauland, leader of the AfD in the Brandenburg Landtag and vice-spokesperson of the party, visited a demonstration in Dresden and views the main tenets of the Pegida movement in a positive light. He recently defended the movement against criticismby German chancellor Angela Merkel. In Düsseldorf, the local Pegida branch is organised by an AfD member. The leader of the party in the Landtag of Saxony, Frauke Petry, defended the movement in arecent parliamentary debate and is planning to meet its leaders in early January. Even ex federal party leader and MEP Bernd Lucke has called Pegida «good and appropriate».
In many ways, the AfD and Pegida are indeed natural allies. In a recent survey by the pollster Forsa, only 13 per cent of all respondents stated that they could imagine joining a PEGIDA demonstration, among AfD supporters, however, the figure is 71 per cent. Both the AfD and Pegida have their strongholds in the eastern Länder, in particular in Saxony, where the AfD reached 6.8 per cent in the 2013 federal elections and recently won 14 seats in the regional parliament. Saxony historically votes to the right of the federal trend and used to be a stronghold of the NPD. As Andreas Zick has claimed, the success of the AfD, and the different popular responses to the rise of the Pegida movement, could point to an increasing division of the political cultures of the East and West of the country.
The political consequences of the rapprochement between the AfD and Pegida are significant. With all other mainstream parties opposing the movement, the friendly approach of the AfD is bound to make it more popular, especially in Eastern Germany. Over the last decade, the increasingly centrist policies of Angela Merkel’s CDU have left a political vacuum to the right of the party. In the past, the national-conservative wing of the CDU and CSU was able to integrate national-conservative voters into the political mainstream. An alliance between the AfD, as a parliamentary populist party of the right, and Pegida, as a right wing grassroots movement, would be bound to reshape Germany’s political system – and the consequences could soon be felt in the form of a shift in Germany’s policy towards the EU and immigration.