It’s the kultur, stupid

Timothy Garton Ash writes: “The reason we are inundated by culturally alien [kulturfremden] peoples such as Arabs, Sinti and Roma etc. is the systematic destruction of civil society as a possible counterweight to the enemies-of-the-constitution by whom we are ruled. These pigs are nothing other than puppets of the victor powers of the Second World War….” Thus begins a 2013 personal e-mail from Alice Weidel, who in this autumn’s pivotal German election was one of two designated “leading candidates” of the Alternative für Deutschland (hereafter AfD or the Alternative). The chief “pig” and “puppet” was, of course, Angela Merkel. Despite the publication of this leaked e-mail two weeks before election day, adding to other widely publicized evidence of AfD leaders’ xenophobic, right-wing nationalist views, one in eight German voters gave the Alternative their support. It is now the second-largest opposition party in the Bundestag, with ninety-two MPs.

Xenophobic right-wing nationalism—in Germany of all places? The very fact that observers express surprise indicates how much Germany has changed since 1945. These days, we expect more of Germany than of ourselves. For, seen from one point of view, this is just Germany partaking in the populist normality of our time, as manifested in the Brexit vote in Britain, Marine le Pen’s Front National in France, Geert Wilders’s blond beastliness in the Netherlands, the right-wing nationalist-populist government in Poland, and Trumpery in the US.

Like all contemporary populisms, the German version exhibits both generic and specific features. In common with other populisms, it denounces the current elites (Alteliten in AfD-speak) and established parties (Altparteien) while speaking in the name of the Volk, a word that, with its double meaning of people and ethno-culturally defined nation, actually best captures what Trump and Le Pen mean when they say “the people.” In Angst für Deutschland, her vividly reported book about the party, Melanie Amann, a journalist at the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, notes how some of its activists have appropriated the slogan of the East German protests against Communist rule in 1989: Wir sind das Volk—We are the people. Like other populists, Germany’s attack the mainstream media (Lügenpresse, the “lying press”) while making effective use of social media. On the eve of the election, the Alternative had some 362,000 Facebook followers, compared with the Social Democrats’ 169,000 and just 154,000 for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). [Continue reading…]

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Germany’s Merkel gets a potential lifeline as center-left party says it’s willing to talk

The Washington Post reports: The impasse that has gripped German politics all week showed signs of breaking Friday as a main center-left party backed down from pledges that it would not consider teaming with Chancellor Angela Merkel to form a government.

The shift gives Merkel a potential path out of a crisis that’s been called the worst of her 12-year tenure. It also lessens the chance that Germans will go back to the polls in early 2018 after an inconclusive September election left the country without an obvious formula for a stable government.

Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) remains the dominant party, but still needs to work with other parties to cobble together a governing partnership [Continue reading…]

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Can Britain get a quickie divorce then help rebuild a stronger Europe?

Simon Jenkins writes: War was once politics by other means. Now the converse may be the case, and thank goodness. But there is such a thing as dangerous politics. The centre is not holding. Leaders are digging into their national subconscious to unearth, if not guns, then a means to populist power.

The times when Britain has been summoned to “come to the aid of Europe” have been few. But they have been preceded by British blindness towards a sudden shift in politics on the continent. When the Catholic church, Louis XIV or Napoleon threatened the peace of Europe, Britain hesitated. It might send a Marlborough or a Wellington to fly the flag for British soldiering, but its heart was rarely in it.

The same casualness infuses the present Brussels negotiations. It may be dismaying to see the EU’s Barnier treat David Davis as might a counter-reformation cardinal some pesky Lutheran princeling. Barnier clearly cares nothing for Europe, only for the Holy Brussels Church and its budget. But in response Britain seems devoid of interest. It shows no vision of an endgame, as if it did not mind about Brexit either way. This is precisely how Europe slithered to war in centuries past.

Europe is not going to war. But its internal-government relations are ever more brittle. The prospect is of another credit crunch, the crippling of the Greek economy, mass unemployment in Italy and Spain, and a critical need for a deal with Russia.

Europe needs a leader. If Merkel is not to be one, then who? Surely not the egotistical Emmanuel Macron? It would have been a golden opportunity for Britain to seize the helm, if only it had not abandoned ship.

Britain has clearly to proceed with Brexit. But it must get the item off the negotiating table as soon as possible. It should seek a quickie divorce: pay the money and marry Norway. It could then hurl itself into a revived “concert of Europe”, and convince the EU’s council of ministers to convene a conference on reform. There could then be a fresh start, a new treaty for a future Europe of sovereign states. That is the treaty Britain can help to write and join, starting now. [Continue reading…]

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Collapse of German coalition talks underlines Merkel’s weaknesses

The Guardian reports: After exploratory talks to form Germany’s next government collapsed in dramatic fashion shortly before midnight on Sunday, the culprit was quickly found: Christian Lindner, the cocksure leader of the pro-business Free Democratic party (FDP) who had staged a well-orchestrated walkout, makes an all-too convincing villain of the piece.

But in the coming weeks German media will have to ask whether the real reason for the political paralysis in Europe’s biggest economy ultimately lies with another politician: Angela Merkel, the incumbent chancellor.

Merkel’s party colleagues and Green politicians had unanimously pointed their fingers at Lindner on Sunday night, insisting they had seen sufficient common ground for a compromise. Some of them voiced suspicions that the pro-business party had never really believed in their political enterprise in the first place.

Exactly which of his party’s red lines the coalition talks had overstepped, Lindner has been unable to convincingly explain. Green party co-leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt on Monday claimed that the FDP had called off the talks in spite of victories in key policy areas. In a country where political stability is valued as highly as it is in Germany, accusations of recklessness could haunt the traditional ally to Merkel’s CDU for years to come. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Germany’s president is to meet party leaders after talks to form a new government between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc, the left-leaning Greens and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) broke down at the weekend.

The collapse of coalition talks poses the most serious threat to Merkel’s position since she became chancellor more than a decade ago.

The president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has called on political leaders to rethink their positions and try again to form a government. He will meet the leaders of the Greens and FDPon Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

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A leaked defence document reveals Germany’s worries about the breakup of the global order

Paul Mason writes: The German defence ministry set out its worst-case scenario for the year 2040 in a secret document that was leaked to Der Spiegel last week: “EU enlargement has been largely abandoned, and more states have left the community … the increasingly disorderly, sometimes chaotic and conflict-prone, world has dramatically changed the security environment.”

The 120-page-long paper, entitled Strategic Perspective 2040, is a federal government policy document – and the scenarios it imagines are grimly realistic: an east-west conflict in which some EU states join the Russian side or a “multipolar” Europe, where some states adopt the Russian economic and political model in defiance of the Lisbon treaty.

That the document exists at all is a sign of the increased tension in the global system. The German military’s tradition of rigorous logistical planning for every eventuality began with the celebrated German field marshal Moltke in the 1850s and has three times paid off with initial success: in 1871 against France, in 1914 and 1939 against the rest of Europe. In the post-cold war era, as Der Spiegel puts it, allowing German generals to make statements about the future was “too risky”. That changed with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Despite the alarmist headlines it has generated, the leaked document is, if anything, overoptimistic. In three out of the six scenarios, things go so well that Europe resembles the Biedermeier era – 1815-1848 – of domestic bliss and military boredom. Its negative scenarios – which see the US struggling to avoid isolationism and China locked in a cultural war with the west – were written before Donald Trump came to power and before Xi Jinping’s strategy of creating a politicised Chinese infrastructure across Asia. [Continue reading…]

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Where Europe went wrong

Paul Taylor writes: Sometimes an outsider’s eye perceives symptoms of decay more clearly than those who live in the midst of Europe’s daily churn.

In “Fractured Continent: Europe’s crises and the fate of the West,” veteran U.S. journalist and think tanker William Drozdiak shows how three flawed projects launched at the end of the Cold War — the euro, the Schengen zone of passport-free travel, and the eastward enlargement of the EU and NATO — have stumbled into trouble, opening deep rifts in Europe.

“Today, the dream of European unity has begun to wither away, and the future stability of the Continent is clouded in uncertainty,” Drozdiak says in an assessment that contrasts starkly with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent assertion that Europe has the wind back in its sails.

Compounding the crises, the former Washington Post foreign correspondent says the United States’ disengagement has left Europeans adrift where previously a steadying hand from Uncle Sam often helped navigate the Continent through troubled waters. Drozdiak is a lifelong Atlanticist steeped in the late Richard Holbrooke’s vision of the U.S. as a benevolent, hands-on European power. He warns that, in the absence of strong American leadership, Europe risks being consumed by its old demon: nationalism.

Drozdiak points to a deep-seated EU methodological problem: the habit of setting out to achieve ambitious objectives with half-baked plans forged in late-night compromises, without anticipating what would happen when things go wrong.

Adopting a single currency without a fiscal union or a lender of last resort; opening internal borders without joint action to protect Europe’s external frontiers; bringing former Soviet satellites into the Western orbit without anticipating a hostile Russian backlash — in each case, Europe’s leaders appear to have been naively optimistic and unprepared.

Drozdiak stops short of predicting whether the EU will fall apart, pitching Europe back into conflict, or seize the chance to pull itself together in a salutary response to Trump and Brexit. But he makes clear the key lies chiefly in Berlin, “the new epicenter of power.” [Continue reading…]

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Merkel moves left to disarm the right

Der Spiegel reports: Angela Merkel has been leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for 17 years, six months and four days, but she still knows how to surprise her party. Last Saturday she dropped by the annual congress organized by its youth wing, the Junge Union. The younger generation has long seen itself in the vanguard of the CDU’s conservative faction, frequently rallying behind politicians who do not see eye to eye with Chancellor Merkel.

At the 2004 congress, Helmut Kohl was given a welcome that suggested he, rather than, Merkel was at the helm of the party (“Who is our idol? – Helmut Kohl”). A year later, the man of the hour was Friedrich Merz, her archrival at the time, who was hellbent on tax reform. This year, the standing ovations were in honor of Jens Spahn, the young state secretary at the Ministry of Finance and the man that many are hoping will spearhead a conservative U-turn within the CDU.

Not surprisingly, there was a rancorous atmosphere when Merkel took to the stage on Saturday morning to field questions from the audience. Was she willing to admit the party had suffered a bitter defeat in the election in late September? Was it not high time she began paying more attention to center-right voters?

Once again, Merkel demonstrated that she is nothing if not flexible when under pressure, and laid out her plan to woo back voters who defected to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) on September 24. The trouble was, her plan was not even remotely what many members of her party want to hear.

In his speech the previous evening, Jens Spahn had spelled out what he sees as the reasons for the CDU’s election humiliation in no uncertain terms. The elephant in the room, the issue no one dares address, in his opinion, is refugee policy. “Does anyone here seriously believe that the reason we lost 12 percent to the AfD in Baden-Württemberg is because of old-age care policy?”

The one person who does seriously believe it is Angela Merkel. She talked about the badly paid care workers for the elderly, about families who can’t afford affordable housing in Germany’s cities. She talked about aging men and women who spent 45 years working only to find their pensions aren’t enough to live on.

“These are social issues we need to resolve,” she said. “The CDU is sometimes more inclined to focus on the economy and less inclined to consider what it actually means for the individual,” she added, in a small swipe at her own party. By the time Merkel left the Congress center in Dresden after about two hours, it had become eminently clear that her response to the rise of the right-wing populist AfD is to shift to the left. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s rogue state: U.S. has no right to terminate Iran accord says EU

Politico reports: The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Friday that the United States had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord. She called the agreement “effective” and said there had been “no violations of any of the commitments” in the deal.

At a news conference at the European Commission’s Brussels headquarters, Mogherini gave a strongly-worded rebuke of the U.S., which has been a chief ally of the EU on security matters, including the response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Her comments were aimed directly at U.S. President Donald Trump, moments after he gave a speech in Washington saying he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, and was asking Congress to adopt legislation that would potentially trigger the reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.

“More than two years ago, exactly in July 2015, the entire international community welcomed the results of 12 years of intense negotiations on the Iran nuclear program,” Mogherini said, adding: “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it. It is a multilateral agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.”

Joining Mogherini in what amounted to extraordinary isolation of the U.S. president, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for the accord, which they described as “in our shared national security interest.” [Continue reading…]

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European leaders criticize Trump’s disavowal of Iran deal

The New York Times reports: Iran, Russia and European leaders roundly condemned President Trump’s decision on Friday to disavow the Iran nuclear deal, saying that it reflected the growing isolation of the United States, threatened to destabilize the Middle East and could make it harder to resolve the growing tensions on the Korean penninsula.

The reaction was far from panicked, as Mr. Trump’s decision punts to Congress the critical decision of whether the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran — a step that would effectively sink the deal.

But Mr. Trump also warned that unless the nuclear agreement was altered and made permanent — to prohibit Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons — he would terminate the agreement, an ultimatum that threw the future of the accord into question.

Though they avoided direct criticism of Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a rare joint statement that they “stand committed” to the 2015 nuclear deal and that preserving it was “in our shared national security interest.”

“The nuclear deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes,” they added.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said that Mr. Trump was sending “a difficult and also from our point of view dangerous signal.”

He said that the Iran deal, and other diplomatic achievements, were necessary “to convince countries like North Korea, and maybe also others, that it is possible to create security without acquiring nuclear weapons.”

“Destroying this agreement would, worldwide, mean that others could no longer rely on such agreements — that’s why it is a danger that goes further than Iran,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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As Germany and Spain prove, history – with all its wounds – is not over

Natalie Nougayrède writes: History is back in Europe. The Catalan referendum and the German election illustrate this spectacularly. The scale of the far-right vote in what was once East Germany and Catalonia’s apparent march towards independence may look like they happened on separate planets – to be sure, they are fuelled by different political beliefs – but they both have to do with pent-up frustrations. Citizens who feel that they have been insulted have gone to the ballot box, and in some cases taken to the streets, to protest. In both situations there is a vivid historical backdrop, with memories of Europe’s 20th-century nightmares playing an important role: in Catalonia, the fight against fascism and Franco; in the east of Germany, the experiences of Nazism and Soviet communism.

In Leipzig and the nearby small town of Grimma, I was told about how citizens felt their self-esteem had been trampled on. German reunification has not led to a shared sense of community. Rather, it’s compared to colonisation: “westerners” took over everything – regional administrations, courts, education and the economy. Everything about life in the Communist state – the way people dressed, what they ate, what they learned in school, how they decorated their homes, what they watched on TV – became an object of scorn and ridicule. It’s not that life isn’t better now: of course it is. There is freedom. And living standards have improved immensely. But many eastern Germans feel their identity has somehow been negated, as if they were being asked to forget about it.

Speaking with Catalan friends in recent days, I heard similar qualms: “We were waiting for a sign that our voice would be heard, but as the years passed nothing was changing” … “Our cultural difference isn’t being acknowledged as it should be”: these were common sentiments, even from people not altogether enthusiastic about breaking away from Spain. [Continue reading…]

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Merkel should follow Macron’s lead on Europe

Christiane Hoffmann writes: After the election victory, it didn’t take long for the congratulations to come in. Just one day afterwards, the most powerful man in the world, Donald Trump, called German Chancellor Angela Merkel with his best wishes for her party’s success.

That was in March, after the Christian Democrats had just won an election in the tiny state of Saarland. A half year later, though, the U.S. president was conspicuously reticent with his compliments, waiting several days after last Sunday’s general election in Germany before finally calling on Thursday. One could see it as a form of brutal honesty: Given Merkel’s weak result, there isn’t much to celebrate. But perhaps it was also a preview of the new reality: Merkel’s loss of power.

Since the election, the chancellor is no longer viewed as the uncontested leader of the German government, a woman who almost secured an absolute majority for her conservatives in 2013. Instead, if she manages to assemble a coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens, she’ll be heading up a government experiment born of necessity. And she will be a chancellor whose turn at the top is coming to an end. That will erode Merkel’s authority on the global stage. Leaders like Trump, Putin and Erdogan know only too well when someone in power has passed their zenith. Indeed, that may have been a reason for Merkel’s uncanny imperturbability both on election night and since. Anything to avoid showing signs of weakness. [Continue reading…]

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Europe and its discontents

Ivan Krastev writes: While the fear of foreigners seems to be at the heart of the conflict between Europe’s East and West, the East’s alienation from the European project could be better understood elsewhere. It is rooted in the trauma of those who have left. Think of it as a delayed reaction of the consequences of millions of East Europeans emigrating to the West in the past 25 years.

In the period between 1990 and 2015 the former G.D.R. lost 15 percent of its population. The mass migration from post-Communist Europe to the West not only impaired economic competitiveness and political dynamism, but also made those who decided to stay home feel like real losers. Those with roots have grown resentful of those with legs. It is the people in the depopulated areas in Europe who most enthusiastically voted for populists.

And while political anger has erupted both in the east and in the west of Germany and in the east and the west of Europe, there’s a clear pattern: When dissatisfied with the status quo, Westerners largely seek alternatives in or around the political mainstream — many of those disappointed with Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats in western Germany voted for the Liberals — while in the east, voters seek alternatives in political extremes.

Germany’s central role for the future of Europe is defined not only by its economic and political power but also by the fact that Germany like no other European country experiences the East-West divide not as a clash between member states but as a split in its own society. [Continue reading…]

 

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The far right is reeling in professionals, hipsters, and soccer moms

Quartz reports: Following the political earthquakes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, commentators tried to get a better understanding of who was leading this seismic change in politics. A picture quickly emerged: angry, working class (“left behind”) men were the driving force of right-wing populism. But a year of bruising elections in Europe has highlighted an uncomfortable truth—support for the far right is far more widespread then angry, old, white working class men.

Last Sunday (Sept 24), German voters put a far-right party into parliament for the first time since the Second World War. Right-wing nationalists Alternative for Germany (AFD) won 13% of the vote, easily overcoming the 5% threshold needed to enter the German Bundestag. A previous study (link in German) showed that AFD supporters come from different social classes, including workers, families with above-average incomes, and even academics. The study concluded that what was common among AFD voters was their dislike for Angela Merkel’s so-called open-door policy to refugees.

A snapshot of where AFD voters came from highlighted the party’s ability to win over voters from a wide array of political affiliations. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (and its sister party the Christian Social Union) lost over one million voters to the AFD. But it wasn’t just right-wing voters who switched to the AFD; the center left Social Democrat lost over 500,000 (or 8.6%) of its 2013 voters to the AFD, the far left Left Party lost 420,000 (11%), and the Greens saw 50,000 defections (0.84%). Polling also showed that the AFD’s received the most votes among voters aged 33 to 44-year-old and that the party had done well with workers, and even managed to win over 10% of support from white-collar workers.

The AFD’s widespread support isn’t particularly surprising or unique. Far-right populism has always been dependent on a fragile coalition of voters—wealthy professionals, disaffected workers, and extremists—to break out of the margins and succeed. While white working class discontent is an important driving force for populism, so is anger from wealthy suburbanites and millennials. [Continue reading…]

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Is Germany’s election result ‘the revenge of the East’?

The Guardian reports: Two days after a historic vote saw an overtly nationalist party enter the German parliament for the first time in more than five decades, a group of over-60s vent their grievances over lunchtime beers and cigarettes in the smoky back room of a dry petrol station on the border between the German state of Saxony and the Czech Republic.

The German government is throwing cash at refugees “while native pensioners can’t afford to buy a new pair of glasses”, they complain. Putin is Europe’s “only guarantor of peace”, they argue, and Germany is still “under occupation” by America.

A retired lorry driver with a handlebar moustache cites a joke he read in the tabloid Bild, which says that in the wake of Sunday’s federal elections, Angela Merkel should consider handing Saxony to the Czechs in exchange for some of their toxic waste. “Let’s have it,” he shouts. “We’ll become Sudeten Germans again.”

Oppach lies in the new heartland of Germany’s far-right upstarts, part of a cluster of five villages in the district of Görlitz where Alternative für Deutschland won more than 44% of the vote on Sunday.

With 12.6% of the national vote, the AfD will be the third-strongest force in the next Bundestag, but in Saxony the party is already top: 27% of voters cast their ballot for the party that wants to hold a referendum on leaving the eurozone, ban burqas and minarets, and have Merkel prosecuted for her decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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Macron lays out vision for ‘profound’ changes in post-Brexit EU

The Guardian reports: The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has set out his plans for a “profound transformation” of the EU with deeper political integration to win back the support of disgruntled citizens, but suggested a bloc moving forward at differing speeds could become somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”.

Macron, a staunchly pro-European centrist who came to power in May after beating the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, pleaded for the EU to return to its founders’ “visionary” ideas, which were born out of the disaster of two world wars.

In what was hailed on Tuesday as one of the most pro-European speeches by an EU leader in years, he spoke up for common EU policies on defence, asylum and tax, called for the formation of European universities, and promised to play Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

He said time was running out for the EU to reinvent itself to counter the rise of far-right nationalism and “give Europe back to its citizens”.

With Brexit looming, Macron warned the rest of Europe against the dangers of anti-immigrant nationalism and fragmentation. “We thought the past would not come back … We thought we had learned the lessons,” he told a crowd of European students at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Days after a far-right party entered the German parliament for the first time in 70 years, Macron said an isolationist attitude had resurfaced “because of blindness … because we forgot to defend Europe. The Europe that we know is too slow, too weak, too ineffective”.

Macron said he was deliberately not saying much about Brexit in his speech, but a reinvigorated EU with various levels of integration and cooperation was somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”. He left the suggestion deliberately vague. [Continue reading…]

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Far-right AfD enters German parliament: What it means for German politics

Jefferson Chase writes: For the first time in the modern history of the Federal Republic of Germany, voters have elected a far-right party to the country’s parliament. But what does “far-right” mean and how will political culture change? The answers are both very complicated and really simple.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) promotes itself as a patriotic, democratic, conservative party. However, critics from across the political spectrum say it’s an association of right-wing extremists. In a pointed reference to the AfD, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel bemoaned the fact that “true Nazis” would once again be part of the Bundestag.

Speaking to foreign journalists, Germany’s leading academic expert on political parties, Oskar Niedermayer, defined the AfD as follows: “The spectrum of positions represented in the AfD cannot be summed up by one word. I call them a nationalist-conservative party with increasing connections to right-wing extremism.”

That’s the complicated bit. The simple one is the AfD’s lone effective issue. The official party platform may be 76 pages long and offers many positions on everything from taxes to public TV to animal rights, but a recent study by the respected Bertelsmann foundation found that the only topic upon which significant numbers of Germans believe the AfD had any expertise was immigration. [Continue reading…]

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Germany’s slide to the right

Klaus Brinkbäumer writes: The one side says things like: “We will hunt them down. We will hunt down Ms. Merkel or whoever else and we will take back our country and our people.” That is what Alexander Gauland, the self-proclaimed guardian of the German people, said shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday evening when the first exit polls were made public.

The other side strikes a different tone: “We had hoped for a slightly better result.” That is what Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday evening. She also said she “wasn’t disappointed.” It was a unique display of exceedingly unsuccessful political dissembling.

This year’s general election in Germany has been heralded as an epochal shift. Merkel’s “grand coalition,” pairing her conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), was voted out of office and the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) became Germany’s third-strongest party. In the search for reasons for the shift, the language of politics is a good place to start. The AfD professed to be clear and decisive, their language was explicit — and voters rewarded them for it. The chancellor, by contrast, sought to avoid discussions and to completely ignore major issues focused on by the populists: foreign migrants and German uneasiness. Merkel’s political style, which is characterized by avoiding clashes, was punished to the greatest possible degree. [Continue reading…]

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What the stunning success of AfD means for Germany and Europe

Cas Mudde writes: In 1991 Belgium had its (first) black Sunday, when the populist radical right Flemish Block gained 6.8% of the national vote. Since then many other western European countries have gone through a similar experience, from Denmark to Switzerland. And now, even the ever stable Germany has its own schwarzer Sonntag, and it’s blacker than most people had expected.

The populist radical-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party not only enters the Bundestag, the German parliament, but does so almost certainly as the third biggest party, with a stunning 13.3%, an increase of 8.8 percentage points according to the exit poll. Moreover, both the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD scored their worst electoral results in the postwar era, with 32.5% and 20% respectively. This means that AfD got two-thirds of the SPD vote, and 40% of the CDU/CSU vote.

Polls from German state TV, showed that AfD has its Hochburgen (strongholds) in the former communist east of the country. While it scored on average 11% in west Germany, it got 21.5% in east Germany, more than twice as much. This is in line with its results in the regional state elections, in which AfD also gained its largest support in the east.

AfD got more votes from past non-voters (1.2 million) than from the CDU/CSU (1 million) or SPD (500,000). In many ways this is an anti-Merkel vote, reflecting opposition to her controversial Willkommenspolitik towards refugees, which not only pushed some voters of mainstream parties to switch but also mobilised previous non-voters. The same poll also shows, for example, that 89% of AfD voters thought that Merkel’s immigration policies ignored the “concerns of the people” (ie German citizens); 85% want stronger national borders; and 82% think that 12 years of Merkel is enough. In other words, AfD has clearly profited from the fact that immigration was the number one issue in these elections. [Continue reading…]

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