Kurt Biedenkopf, the Christian Democrat politician who was premier of the eastern German state of Saxony after reunification, told the weekly newspaper Die Zeit why he believes the rise of the euro-skeptic Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party is not necessarily a sign Germans are rejecting the euro.
Mr. Biedenkopf, how much of a threat is the Alternative for Germany’s election success in Saxony? SPD boss Sigmar Gabriel calls them “German nationalists” and Heiner Geissler, the former CDU general secretary, finds them “backward-looking.”
Kurt Biedenkopf: I don’t share this assessment. My impression is rather: The Germans are doing so well that even when there is a small change in the status quo, they start to develop feelings of crisis and look for a way to let off steam.
The vast majority are experiencing the present time as one of great prosperity and great stability. That can give some people the feeling that they can play a bit with democracy and try out something new.
Do you believe that the AfD won’t manage to establish itself in the long run?
That remains to be seen. Up to now the AfD has been a political group that is on its way to becoming a party, nothing more. That alone is why the CDU has ruled it out as a coalition partner. It is still too heterogeneous and thus cannot guarantee stability as a partner.
One could never be certain how its members of parliament would vote in critical situations. In Saxony the AfD was united by the election campaign. However, I suspect that they could fall apart if they were faced with political responsibility. They’ve already provided examples of that.
Are coalitions with the AfD wrong only for practical reasons or also because of policy differences?
When looking at the AfD program for the European elections, I notice that at no point does it mention the economic or financial consequences of AfD demands for changing the euro zone. The required explanation is missing.
That is not political. If Spain, Portugal or Italy were to leave the euro zone and to devalue their currencies, as suggested by the AfD, the consequences for Germany would be dramatic.
The southern European countries would be able to export their products far cheaper, thus undercutting German product prices. The result would be massive unemployment in Germany. No one here can want that.
In Saxony the AfD in the end made headway with issues like alleged criminality by foreigners, referendums on the building of minarets and encouraging families to have three children – policies that appealed to many CDU voters. What does that say about your party?
In Saxony, with its catch-all issues the AfD was successful in its attempt to fill a political vacuum that has developed because the CDU and the SPD have become too similar and occupy the political center. There was no mention of the euro issue. The Pirates had similarly aimed to fill this vacuum. They have, however, failed to do so.
Is the CDU too left-wing?
It’s not an issue of left or right. What is missing is a serious political force that challenges the two big parties and their policies. The super-coalition in Berlin has practically overridden the democratic principle of separation of powers. Government and parliament are too close.
Angela Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel have established a division of labor. The chancellor is responsible for foreign and European policy, the deputy chancellor for economic and energy policy, most likely the most difficult domestic issues.
At first there was a lot of criticism of this division of labor. But actually, this division was a brilliant move by the chancellor.