Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and also longest-serving leader in the European Union, is losing power to the rapidly growing ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) party. A far-right group that has been likened to the Nazis. The story of the AfD’s prompt rise is a sobering reminder of the swinging political mood in one of Europe’s strongest economies.
In the September 2017 election, the AfD gained entrance into the Reichstag (German National Parliament) for the first time, securing 12.6% of the vote and sending shockwaves through Germany’s political sphere. The party has gained 9% more of the vote than in their first campaign 5 years ago.
Despite only being founded 5 years ago, the AfD has undergone serious restructuring. Once led by professors worried about the fate of the euro, it is now controlled by right-wing radicals demanding the complete ousting of all immigrants and “non-Germans” among other policies.
The rise of The AfD can be partially attributed to a strong undercurrent of fear. Much like how the UK Independence Party (UKIP) harnessed the growing fear towards immigrants entering the UK to call for an E.U. referendum, the AfD openly criticised Merkel allowing around 890,000 immigrants from Hungary into Germany. The correlation between the AfD’s popularity increase and the refugee crisis is clearly demonstrated in the polling data. Before the refugees from Hungary were granted asylum, alt-right powers in Germany gained between 2 and 6% of the vote. After, they gained up to 16%. The AfD also regularly uses terrorist attacks committed by asylum applicants to exploit the surmounting fears of the German people and gain popularity.
Frauke Petry, arguably one of the party’s most important figures insisted in January 2016 that there are some instances in which it would be legitimate for border patrol to shoot immigrants trying to get into the country. In addition, Börn Höcke called the National Holocaust Memorial, the “Monument of Shame” in a speech earlier this year. The speech was said to have an “affinity” with Nazism and Höcke has been compared to Goebbels, the lead propagandist of the Nazi party. This careful provocation is also used very effectively by the AfD. They gain immense media attention by breaking taboos, helping them to remain relevant and part of the national conversation. The party has many different figures calling for various right-wing reforms, but the galvanising force is their combined disapproval for Angela Merkel’s policies on immigration.
With Angela Merkel recently announcing that she will not be running for election in 2021 along with the shifting political mood in Germany, the question that remains is whether the AfD’s resounding success will continue or whether they will become a distant memory of German politics.
Original image by Becky Daffern