Straight Talk

CDU Silence Sparks AfD Surge

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  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Alternative for Germany party did well in three state elections by playing on the fears of conservative voters. Chancellor Merkel’s CDU needs to make it clear why its backward-looking policies are not feasible in modern Germany.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The AfD has won seats in three state elections, creating a new political force to the right of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU.
    • The AfD attracts votes from all parties and appeals to those who reject the centerist policies of most German political parties.
    • The surest way to quiet drums beating for a return to the past is to offer a compelling vision for the future.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Bernd Lucke doesn’t mince words ― fortunately.

During the Brandenburg state elections campaign, the co-founder and head of the Alternative für Deutschland or Alternative for Germany party (AfD) thundered that he understands when people say that in matters of domestic security, the German Democratic Republic was better than the West. Did Mr. Lucke, in effect, want to say that under Communist rule “not everything was bad”, or was he suggesting that a large wall was a wonderful way to keep foreigners out? Or, perhaps, was the message that a police surveillance state was a fine thing?

Mr. Lucke and his euro-skeptic party friends often blunder in their choice of words and take aim at foreigners and homosexuals, all the while loudly proclaiming, “we are not conservative, we want to change something.” But the opposite is true. They want to revert to what was lost a long time ago, starting with the musty wish of rejecting the euro and returning to the German mark all while invoking old and outdated social paradigms.

Obviously, it’s primarily older citizens who like to hear such speeches. Calling for a return to the so-called good old days is as enticing to voters in Brandenburg and Thuringia as it was in Saxony. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the older the population, the easier it is for such slogans to find willing ears. Thus, the stage is set for some interesting political action over the coming months.

For one thing, the AfD must pass the reality test in three state parliaments. The “party under construction” must show itself capable of functioning as a parliamentary party, must submit proposals with demands, vote on the propositions of the others and show what their representatives really stand for since the party has not been clear in explaining its overall goals.

The AfD wants to revert to what was lost a long time ago, starting with the musty wish of rejecting the euro and returning to the German mark.

Additionally, established parties have to react, especially Chancellor Merkel’s ruling center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). This isn’t so much a matter of dealing with the individual demands of the AfD, or even reverting into activism for its own sake. The course of the euro bailout, for example, cannot be reversed even though the decisions made were not without alternatives. As the Merkel administration had happily suggested.

The process has long since progressed too far. Still, the CDU and its Bavarian sister partner, the Christian Social Union, need to explain why “conservative” in the 21st century has nothing to do with “conserving” and that change drives the future and, ultimately, serves to build on the things of value from the past. History books are filled with examples of downfalls caused by clinging too tightly to old and outdated philosophies.

The two parties have jettisoned many of their former positions and, in the process, forgotten to give party members a compass that would show where they are headed politically. Uncertainty fuels fears and, suddenly, even conservative things are a threat. Only when someone emerges to explain, for example, why the military draft is antiquated, or why the future belongs to renewable energies, will the drumbeat for a return to the past stop beating so loudly.

This article was translated by David Andersen. Jeff Borden also contributed to this story. To reach the author: delhaes@handelsblatt.com

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