Tackling the AfD

Let the Xenophobes Self-Destruct

Teilnehmer der AfD Demonstration halten am 07.11.2015 in Berlin ein Transparent mit der Aufschrift "Asyl braucht Grenzen!". Die Alternative für Deutschland AfD hat unter dem Motto «Asylchaos stoppen» eine Demonstration gegen die Flüchtlingspolitik der Bundesregierung mit 5000 Teilnehmern angemeldet. Gleichzeitig waren Gegendemonstrationen vom bürgerlichen Lager bis hin zu Linksautonomen angemeldet.Foto: Paul Zinken/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
An AfD demo in Berlin.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany could enter numerous state parliaments and even the federal parliament in elections over the next two years.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The AfD has reached 9 percent in the opinion polls and could enter three state parliaments in forthcoming regional elections.
    • The party plays on the fears of German citizens, particularly regarding immigration, but it has no programs to offer voters.
    • The best course of action is to leave the AfD alone and let it self-destruct.
  • Audio

    Audio

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There’s always an alternative. Perhaps that’s the explanation for the fears that have been spread by the recently arrived right-wing party shaking up Germany’s more traditional political scene. It was just three years ago when Alternative for Germany began spouting the “heaven-help-us” rhetoric every talk show desires but the political establishment doesn’t usually offer.

Since then, the new kid on the block has garnered 9 percent in opinion polls, setting set off the alarm bells among the competition. Above all, representatives of the ruling coalition in  Berlin – the center-right Christian Democratic Union, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, and their coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats – are squabbling over how to react to Germany’s doomsayers. Ignore them? Treat them politely? Or fight them aggressively?

Left to themselves, this so-called German alternative will quickly disintegrate into its individual racist and less-racist parts.

The greatest favor the insecure coalition parties can do for the AfD, which enjoys its greatest strength in the former East German states, is to continue enhancing its status through all kinds of tirades. This behavior is what will unify the fragmented troops of the AfD. It allows the party to define itself as an underdog ostracized by the establishment – an underdog that currently is a demographic baby tiger.

If you ignore the anti-establishment frenzy, the question soon arises of what kind of party Germans actually are dealing with here. Is it the AfD of Frauke Petry, who gives the impression of being moderate among a throng of hardliners but who may suffer the fate of her ousted predecessor Bernhard Lucke? Is it the AfD of the former CDU provincial strategist Alexander Gauland, who is now getting his kicks out of national conservatism? Or will it be the AfD of Björn Höcke, the teacher from Thuringia known for his critical views of the government’s current migration policy, who cites the “dispersal character” of Africans in contrast to the “place-holder character” of Germans?

 

Party Popularity-01 (2)

 

Left to themselves, this so-called German alternative will quickly disintegrate into its individual racist and less-racist parts. Then, it would be a short-term phenomenon akin to other far-right parties such as Franz Schönhuber’s Republicans, or Manfred Brunner’s Association of Free Citizens. The rut dug by right-wing populists is deep. However, if attacks on the AfD are exaggerated, it risks turning high approval ratings in the polls into victories at the ballot box.

Of course, the political establishment is nervous. If the AfD enters more German parliaments, it would likely affect the ability of the CDU to form governments. And, naturally, no one wants to form an alliance with these political urchins. Yet mathematically, the result could be that in the German states and maybe even in the German federal parliament, a majority could only be reached through the formation of coalitions between the center-right and the center-left, such as that currently in power at the federal level. A left-of-center majority, which former German Chancellor Willy Brandt once spoke of and which theoretically occurred in the federal elections of fall 2013 would simply be a remnant of history.

Program-wise, the AfD has nothing to offer. It started as economics professor Lucke’s anti-euro party and now traffics in xenophobia. Germany needs more liberals in its parliaments. It doesn’t need more boneheads, as Wolfgang Schäuble describes the AfD. Let them demystify themselves. Their leadership crises will come more quickly than their election miracle.

 

The author can be reached at: jakobs@handelsblatt.com

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