Bernd Lucke likes to lecture audiences for hours on end.
That’s what he used to do in his old job as economics professor at Hamburg University and, later, on his tours through Germany during the European Parliament election campaign. Now, the leader of the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany, or AfD by its German acronym, is just one of 751 members of the European Parliament and his speeches are limited by parliamentary rules to just two minutes.
He looks somewhat lost among all the black armchairs in this huge chamber, which is plunked on the edge of Strasbourg like an over-sized egg. It’s the middle of July and he is making one of his first appearances on the European stage discussing youth unemployment. “The (European) Commission is closing its eyes to the fact that it is the single European currency which is ruining the future perspectives of young people,” Mr. Lucke said.
This won’t be the last time parliamentarians in Brussels and Strasbourg will be hearing statements like that.
A common currency and the problems associated with its creation were the motivation for Mr. Lucke to form his euroskeptic party in 2013. The 51-year-old and his six AfD colleagues in the European Parliament demand countries such as Italy and Greece be allowed to leave the currency union. Driven by the party’s constant criticism of the euro, the AfD narrowly missed gaining a foothold in the Bundestag, the German constitutional and legislative body, in the 2013 elections, but in May this year, it secured seats in the parliament after winning 7 percent of the vote.
Mr. Lucke now seeks to duplicate that success in German state elections.
“The (European) Commission is closing its eyes to the fact that it is the single European currency which is ruining the future perspectives of young people,.”
Saxony in eastern Germany will elect a new state parliament at the end of August. In mid-September, Brandenburg surrounding Berlin and Thuringia in the mid-section of the country will also go to the polls. Surveys show the AfD could gain seats in all three state parliaments. In Saxony, there also is the prospect the populist party could drive the Free Democratic Party, the most classically liberal of Germany’s political groups, from its last bastion in state government. This would mark a turning point in Germany’s political landscape.
For the elections in eastern Germany, AfD is positioning itself as more conservative and clearly to the right of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union. Among the AfD demands are more police to patrol Brandenburg’s border with Poland, where reported crime has been higher than average, primarily property and car thefts.
In 2013, police arrested more than 3,600 foreign car theft suspects –mostly from Poland and Russia—which was a 48 percent increase over 2012. If additional police resources would be too expensive, AfD candidate Alexander Gauland has called for closing the border with Poland.
In Thuringia, AfD candidate Björn Höcke decries the “nonsensical ideology” of gender policies and argues in favor of a “natural polarity of the sexes,” claiming this has driven higher levels of development for mankind. He opposes hiring quotas for women, the “hyper-sexualization in schools,” the teaching of sex education before puberty and giving homosexual unions equal footing with heterosexual marriage. Mr. Höcke said the state should promote the traditional classic family model.
In Saxony, AfD candidate Frauke Petry said the goal is for German families, like their French counterparts, to have three children so the German population can grow again. Greater immigration is seen only as a temporary solution to the nation’s low birth rate, which Mr. Höcke has called a “demographic catastrophe.”
AfD’s populist agenda is not being widely embraced in Europe. During the first week of parliament sessions in Strasbourg, Mr. Lucke ran for the number two position on the monetary committee, but lost even though his election looked like a foregone conclusion after the AfD joined forces with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a conservative political group that is also euroskeptic. But German members of parliament worked actively to defeat Mr. Lucke, the outspoken but unloved political newcomer.
Exclusion by the “old parties“, as Mr. Lucke likes to call the more established groups, is not a new experience for AfD members. “It shows the dividing lines and that domestic policy is felt in Brussels, too,“ he said.
But for the AfD, the European Parliament is only a stopover. Next year will see elections in Hamburg and Bremen, city-states located in northern Germany, where Mr. Lucke has high hopes of gaining seats, but the long-term goal is doing well in the federal elections in 2017.
“Europe is very important for us,” Mr. Lucke said. “But we never considered Europe to be everything.”