Peter Foster, Telegraph, March 14, 2016
What is Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and where did it come from?
AfD is an anti-immigrant party that was founded in 2013. It grew out of a Eurosceptic protest Electoral Alternative 2013 which was set up to campaign against the German federal government’s handling of the eurozone currency crisis.
The party held its first convention in Berlin on April 14, 2013, backed by many of the same economists who had supported Electoral Alternative 2013. Frauke Petry, a British-educated entrepreneur was among three prominent figures elected as speakers for the party.
In the 2013 federal election AfD won 4.7 per cent of the vote, narrowly missing the minimum 5 per cent threshold needed to enter the Bundestag.
So how did they rise so fast?
By lurching hard to the Right to capitalise on rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany that followed Angela Merkel’s decision to publicly welcome migrants to Germany last summer. The party has also been effective in mobilising turnout among blue-collar voters who historically had not voted in large numbers.
According to exit polls from the 2016 regional elections, some 40 per cent of AfD voters said they had not voted in the previous election–but had been motivated this time to vote.
Tell me more about AfD’s leader Frauke Petry
She is a 40-year old entrepreneur who studied chemistry at Reading University, graduating in 1998, before attending the University of Gottingen.
When AfD was in its infancy, Ms Petry was a leading voice in the anti-immigration national conservative faction. Her grouping seized power in a party coup in June 2015, repositioning the party dramatically further Right.
Her smiling, elfin features belie some fierce Right-wing views that have earned her both fierce criticism but–like other Right-wing figures like Donald Trump in America–the support of a vocal minority of working-class Germany.
Her suggestion that German border guards should shoot illegal immigrants caused uproar: “If necessary, [they] should use firearms,” she told a local German newspaper in February, “I don’t want this, but the use of armed force is there as a last resort.”
When asked if that extended to opening fire on women and children, she replied: “Yes”.
So is AfD far-Right, or just Right-wing?
Labels and generalisations are always dangerous–but like Britain’s UKIP party which has had its embarrassing episodes, the AfD’s ranks certainly contain elements that would be considered ‘far-Right’ in most of Europe.
The AfD sits in the same European Parliament grouping as the British Conservative Party, but has been accused of being the “smiling face” of the overtly far-Right Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident (Pegida) party which staged a number of large anti-immigrant rallies in Germany last year.
The party’s critics have, however, accused it of being the political wing of Pegida, noting that many of its policies–such as “zero” immigration and advocating that all German women should have three children, have dark historical overtones.
Party members have also described rival politicians as Volksverräter, or “traitors to the people”, a slur the Nazis used against their enemies–a phrase officially disowned by the AfD leadership, but which serves as a dog-whistle for far-Right element in German politics.
The party campaigned on a promise to reduce the focus on teaching the Nazi period in schools, a controversial policy in a country where guilt over the crimes of the Second World War still looms large.
So how far can AfD go? Could they really be a force in German politics?
The AfD have proved with this result they are a force to be reckoned with, but they are unlikely ever to get into power. Germany’s proportional voting system means most government are coalitions, and all the other parties have vowed never to go into coalition with the AfD.
What they could do is fragment the political landscape by taking votes away from the traditional parties, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the rival Social Democrats (SPD) and making it harder for them to form coalitions.
Germany could see unusual alliances, such is the determination of the other parties to keep the AfD out of power: the CDU is already reaching out to the Green Party, which previously served in a national government under Mrs Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder.