AfD makes gains for far-right in Germany


In Italy and France, the respective conservative movements led by Giorgia Meloni and Le Pen drew almost 30 per cent of the vote to finish first in those polls; in the Netherlands, the more hardline Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom came in second; and, in Poland, the Law and Justice Party came second.

Ultra-conservative and nationalist parties also won or made significant gains in Austria, Cyprus and Greece. Several other countries, such as Portugal, will also be sending nationalist Members of European Parliament to Strasbourg.

Konrad Adam, the founder of the AfD, quit the party in 2021, claiming the movement had been overrun by extremists.

Konrad Adam, the founder of the AfD, quit the party in 2021, claiming the movement had been overrun by extremists.Credit: Rob Harris

This election also marked the first time that 16 and 17-year-old Germans were able to vote. AfD had major wins in the under-30 demographic, courtesy of a major TikTok campaign, and increased its share of that category by 10 per cent.

Krah was the star of the social platform with simple and direct messages. One became rather notorious.

“One in three young men in Germany has never had a girlfriend. Are you one of them?” Krah asked. His advice continued: “Don’t watch porn, don’t vote green, go outside into the fresh air. Be confident. And above all, don’t believe you need to be nice and soft. Real men stand on the far right. Real men are patriots. That’s the way to find a girlfriend!”

German intelligence services have classified the AfD as a suspected right-wing extremist organisation. Several branches across Germany have been classed as “confirmed” extremist groups amid the party’s increasingly xenophobic rhetoric.

Three-quarters of Germans now say they believe that the AfD poses a threat to democracy, and many took to the streets en masse earlier this year against the party’s hardline immigration agenda.

Scholz, whose Social Democratic Party won just 13.9 per cent of the European parliamentary vote – its worst result in a nationwide democratic election in more than 130 years – warned that the policies of the far-right populist party must not become normalised.

“We should never get used to that,” he said. “The task must always be to push them back again.”

Among Adam’s biggest concerns is the division the AfD is causing, having pounced on short memories and young voters and pointed out that it gained most of its votes in Germany’s eastern federal states.

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“I fear this could tear the country apart again,” Adam said. “I think for many people, they don’t have memories of two Germanies. But it is still so raw for many of us.”

Initially, the AfD was a minor party with little broad appeal, but a 2015 decision by then-chancellor Angela Merkel to allow more than 1 million refugees from Syria and Iraq into Germany changed the party’s prospects. Its platform became primarily anti-Muslim and anti-Islam.

While the party’s founders have openly criticised the AfD and some have resigned over its move to the radical right, it shifted its geographic focus, as its anti-immigration stance won increasing support from eastern parts of Germany.

Nationally, the AfD gained six European seats at the weekend for a total of 16 – one of its best results in a nationwide election, although lower than the 22 per cent share that polls suggested in January.

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Stefan Lehne, a senior fellow at analysis agency Carnegie Europe, said the AfD’s popularity had been sustained by two factors.

“The party taps into growing public unease about Berlin’s lack of a coherent migration and asylum policy at a time when the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Germany has significantly increased,” he said.

“The party further leverages growing anti-Islam and antisemitic sentiments, which the established parties rarely, if ever, raise.”

The other factor, Lehne said, was that Scholz’s government had failed to communicate the chancellor’s policies on Ukraine, climate change and Germany’s relations with the EU, NATO and China.

“All of these issues involve strategic planning, money, and conviction,” Lehne said. “Scholz, who leads a party that is divided, particularly over Russia, has yet to take a robust and unambiguous attitude toward the AfD.”

Constanze Stelzenmüller, an expert on German, European, and trans-Atlantic foreign and security policy and strategy at the Brookings Institution, said the warning signs of radicalisation within the AfD had been there for years.

“Indeed, today, you could say of all the hard-right parties in Europe, the AfD is really the only one that’s not trying to pretend it is anything but what it is, which is racist, white, ethno-nationalist, Islamophobic and bent on changing the German constitutional order,” she said.

Along with Krah’s interview, the AfD has been embroiled in several other scandals this year, including a secret meeting of its senior officials to plan the mass expulsion of immigrants, which has raised doubts about the party’s commitment to democratic values.

Its other controversial figures include Petr Bystron, who was second on the AfD’s list of candidates for Europe. Bystron, now an MP, is being investigated by German police and prosecutors on suspicion of money laundering and corruption. He is suspected of taking money from the Kremlin to spout Russian propaganda.

In May, the AfD leader in the state of Thuringia, Bjorn Hocke, was fined €13,000 for using a forbidden Nazi slogan in a 2021 speech.

Alice Weidel, one of the AfD’s leaders, has called for Germany to hold a parliamentary election.

Alice Weidel, one of the AfD’s leaders, has called for Germany to hold a parliamentary election.Credit: AP

Meanwhile, Alice Weidel, one of two leaders of the AfD, demanded on Monday that Scholz call new parliamentary elections – as French President Emmanuel Macron did after his party’s dismal European results.

The 45-year-old lesbian investment-banking economist, buoyed by her party becoming Germany’s “second force”, declared: “People have had enough.”

Brussels-based Lehne said it was important not to overstate the influence of the AfD, pointing out that the party has become too radical even for Le Pen.

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“The likelihood of the AfD ever attaining power in Berlin is remote in the short term,” he said. “Even if the party is running in second place in the opinion polls, none of the established parties would consider teaming up with the AfD to form a coalition; the party is too toxic.”

And despite his lament, Adam doesn’t regret forming the party. He stressed a genuine conservative alternative was needed at the time to Merkel’s government. But where the AfD has come unstuck, he said, was that it comprised “too many people who see excellent earning opportunities and mandates for themselves”.

“I am convinced that it is beneficial to the vibrant democratic life if the voter has a choice if he goes to vote,” he said. “I just don’t think the AfD can be the answer.”



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