What does the success of the right-wing AfD mean?by Charles Lees / September 23, 2016 / Leave a comment
Last Sunday’s state elections in Berlin provided conclusive proof, if it were needed, that the right-wrong populist party “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) threatens the settled and often cosy world of German politics. As in other German state elections, such as the recent shock result in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the AfD took votes from all the mainstream parties. But the political class has been particularly shocked by the fact that this has happened in the nation’s capital.
Whereas the AfD’s performance in a small, rural, eastern German state like Mecklenburg could be written off as a protest vote by the old, “the left behind,” the socially conservative, or just plain racist, Berlin is the most cosmopolitan and socially liberal city in Germany. It is full of educated young people, is a European hub for high tech start-ups, and prides itself on being a Weltstadt or “world city.” Despite this, the AfD gained just over 14 per cent of the votes in Berlin. This was only enough to put it in fifth place, behind the social democratic SPD, Christian democratic CDU, the Left Party and the Greens, but it has nevertheless spooked Germany’s risk-averse politicians. For if the AfD’s vote can get comfortably into double figures in Berlin, many are thinking “what could it do elsewhere?” And with the Federal election due in September next year, what are the AfD’s prospects of gaining a vital foothold in German national politics as well?
The manner in which the AfD has emerged to threaten the political status quo is a familiar one. Like UKIP in its original incarnation as the Anti-Federalist League (AFL) a quarter of a century ago, the AfD originated in an intellectual milieu. In the mold of the LSE’s Alan Sked, who founded Ukip’s forerunner, the AfD was set up in late 2012 by Alexander Gauland, Konrad Adam, and Berndt Lucke. Gauland was a former Department Head of the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Adam was a former editor of the influential Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung newspaper, and Lucke was a tenured Professor of Macroeconomics at the University of Hamburg. They were well-informed and well-networked and their joint manifesto was soon publically endorsed by an impressive…