Election Race

The Unconventional New Face of Germany's Populist Right

AfD Bundesparteitag
Alice Weidel photographed at the AfD party congress. Source: Michael Kappeler/DPA

She’s the Alternative for Germany’s new co-frontrunner despite a great divergence from the party’s typically conservative, xenophobic portrait. Alice Weidel, an openly gay economist, was nominated as the anti-immigrant, far-right party’s chief candidate on Sunday, set to run alongside AfD co-founder Alexander Gauland in September’s federal elections.

At 38 years old, Ms. Weidel has had a remarkably successful career in business and finance, working for Goldman Sachs, Allianz Global Investors and the Bank of China, in positions ranging from start-up consultant to investment banker. She lived in China for six years, speaks fluent Mandarin and completed her doctorate thesis on the Chinese pension system.

She currently resides in Überlingen, a city on the northern shore in Lake Constance, close to the Swiss border. Her life partner is a Swiss film and TV producer, and the couple has two sons under the age of five.

Ms. Weidel joined the AfD in 2013 when it was still in its infancy, and ran as the candidate for Baden-Württemberg’s state elections in 2016. She didn’t get elected, but she was well-liked. The party garnered a strong third-place showing with 15 percent of the vote.

While the AfD started as a populist eurosceptic party, its image has become increasingly tied to the radical right in recent years, a result of racist and anti-Semitic comments made by high-ranking members. Ms. Weidel is one of the AfD’s last remaining economist members, and has focused her platform on criticizing the euro, ECB policy and debt haircuts for Greece in the past.

At the party congress over the weekend in Cologne, which drew an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 protesters, the AfD agreed to a campaign platform in favor of abandoning the euro, decentralizing EU powers to the national level, but also stemming immigration by ending family unification of refugees in Germany and declaring Islam incompatible with German culture.

Speaking to the delegates, she called it a “scandal” that in Germany “Christian holidays have to be protected by police with machine guns and barriers for trucks”.

Despite falling in line with the party’s anti-immigrant hard line, Ms. Weidel has described herself in interviews as both “a conservative libertarian” and “liberal at the core.” Perhaps she could swim the AfD back to the waters of populist appeal and away from the inflammatory far-right turn it has taken.

But that may not be what party members and voters want. Delegates chose to reject co-chairwoman Frauke Petry’s proposal of a more moderate “Realpolitik” program to squelch extremism among the party’s ranks. The AfD’s former leading lady has since been effectively shuffled to the sidelines, with rumors swirling that she may create a new AfD faction or even a new party post-election. If the last several months of the AfD’s internal struggles have been any indication, the party might still be hopelessly far from the “unity and discipline” Ms. Weidel is promising.

 

Barbara Woolsey is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: b.woolsey@extern.vhb.de

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