Alternative for Germany

Resisting the Pull to the Right

AfD leadership. Source: dpa
AfD leadership.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A power struggle is splitting the Alternative for Germany party,  as the economists who started the party take on the right wingers who now want control.

  • Facts


    • Alternative for Germany is a Euro-sceptic political party created in 2013.
    • It was founded by World Bank economist Bernd Lucke.
    • The party won 7 out of 96 seats in the European parliament elections in 2014.
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Hans-Olaf Henkel, a leader of the anti-euro Alternative for Germany, or AfD, doesn’t understand why the term levelled against the new political movement, “the professors’ party,” is an insult.

“That must be pretty awful,” said Mr. Henkel, who is a former president of the Association of German Industry and represents AfD in the European Parliament. “For the first time, a party is headed by people who know what they’re talking about.”

Bernd Lucke, who founded the right-leaning AfD, is an economics professor from Hamburg. His measured tone and correct manners is one of the things that attracted people like Mr. Henkel to the party.

At its convention this weekend in Bremen, the AfD will decide whether it can continue as a gathering of professors.

For months now, the leaders of the party have been locked in a power struggle, between the academics who want to focus on the economic arguments against membership of the euro, and more politically right-wing members who want to focus more on issues such as immigration and social welfare.

The two sides clashed in recent months.

At the moment, the party has three chairmen, who all have equal power. The party is now debating whether it in fact needs one, powerful leader, most likely Mr. Lucke.

“There are unreasonable, unsavory people in the AfD. We’re trying to get rid of them”

Hans-Olaf Henkel, Alternative for Germany MEP

Mr. Lucke is a social conservative, but more liberal on economic matters. The other two leaders, Frauke Petry and Konrad Adam are more traditionally conservative and, in many ways, populist.  They have not distanced themselves from the anti-Islamic Pegida movement, and oppose TTIP, a proposed trans-Atlantic trade agreement that is popular with businesses but not the general population.

Several of the original academics are uneasy with the changes.

“For me it is crucial that Bernd Lucke remains party chairman,” said Joachim Starbatty, professor emeritus for political economics at Tübingen University and a European Parliament member for the last seven months.

“Lucke has to remain at the top,” said Roland Vaubel, professor for national economy at Mannheim University, a founding member of AfD. “There can be no other way.”

The economists within the party are aghast at what they perceive to be economic naiveté within the party and are unhappy about the anti-American tone during internal debates, particularly with opposition to the transatlantic trade treaty. Mr. Starbatty has been criticized within the party for arguing in favor of the treaty.

“That hurt me deeply,” he said. “As an economist, one doesn’t question free trade.”

Gustav Greve, who helps to formulate the party program, said professors are still active in the party on the state and national levels.

“We have not been completely transformed from an analytical party to a party of shrill words,” he said.

But the party’s membership has been changing and moving to the right.  Former officials from the right-wing Republicans, the Freedom party and other splinter groups have joined the party even though they have not all been welcomed by the AfD.

The Pegida movement has created more rifts, with some party leaders making advances to the populist protest group.

Mr. Henkel has made it clear he does not want AfD to be allied with the moment, and admitted there are some members in his own party that he is not happy with.

“There are unreasonable, unsavory people in the AfD,” he said. “We’re trying to get rid of them.”


This article originally appeared in weekly magazine WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author:

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