‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD), a radical right populist party, has been gaining rapid support over recent months. The party is currently polling at around 20% support, more than double that of last year, and the party won its first district council elections last June, making it Germany’s most successful far-right party since the Nazis. Currently, the party leader is Alice Elizabeth Weidel, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, who has represented the party since 2017. The AfD is highly controversial in seemingly every aspect of their beliefs and legislation, but most so on immigration, climate change and economic policies. The AfD have been described as the ‘return of Xenophobic populism’ to German politics, and controversy surrounding the party threatens to tear German politics apart.
The party was founded in 2013 in response to the eurozone debt crisis – where, following the collapse of Iceland’s banking system, there was an almost-immediate reduction in the flow of foreign capital in countries which usually experienced high amounts of financial lending (a product of monetary habits at the time, with encouragement of high-risk borrowing). This led to the collapse of many governmental structures and deprivation, as well as a general loss in confidence and trust for European businesses, having dire national and international impacts. The AfD offered a view of ‘Eurosceptic sentiment’ – a general opposition to increasing the power held by the European Union – at the time an appealing thought for the German public whose livelihoods had been affected by the economic decisions of the EU. In response, the party had proposed the ‘Deutsche Mark’ as a new currency rather than the euro.
A common aspect of Euroscepticism is also tighter immigration policies, leading us on to one of the most contentious elements of the AfD. The party is known for being anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, Eurosceptic and German nationalist. 2015 was the height of Europe’s migration crisis as millions fled warzones in areas such as Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. The AfD experienced a huge increase in support as they were the only party opposing Merkel’s ‘open’ immigration policy. The Christian Democratic Union (Germany’s main opposition party) urged political parties to incorporate tighter immigration policies to counter the AfD’s monopolization of the issue. In response to this issue, Hendrik Wust, the Minister-President of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said that “the power of populists and extremists is always fueled by the democrats inability to act“.
“The power of populists and extremists is always fueled by the democrats inability to act.”Hendrik Wust
Following an investigation by the BfV (Germany’s federal domestic intelligence agency), the youth organisation of the AfD was, in April 2023, designated an ‘extremist entity’ in April 2023. The BfV argued that the group portrayed consistent agitation towards refugees/ migrants, and a desire to get rid of the democratic structures designed to protect Germany from extremist influences.
The most recent controversy for the party comes after reported discussions between senior AfD officials and neo-Nazi activists, and was believed to have occurred in November 2023. A project of ‘remigration’ was proposed, including deporting ‘unassimilated’ immigrants (those not ‘settled’ into the culture), even if they have German citizenship. This draws on Martin Sellner (of the Identitarian Movement) and his belief these targeted individuals are a part of ‘aggressive, rapidly growing parallel societies’ and therefore do not reflect ‘German values’. The location of planned deportation has been reported as a place in Northern Africa, in which the members of this meeting reportedly placed a target of two million deportations. In response to reports of the meeting, more than 100,000 people protested on the streets of German cities, and the Chancellor Olaf Scholz has come out to defend his citizens “regardless of origin [or] skin colour.”
In response to reports of the meeting, more than 100,000 people protested on the streets of German cities
The AfD’s nationalistic beliefs extend to the Russia-Ukraine war, in which the AFD believes aid to the Ukrainians would be better spent on German citizens. Another controversial area of their policy relates to climate change, specifically the failure of the party leadership to accept the threat. A telling study carried out by the University of Oxford and the Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences has found evidence of a link between those in support of right-wing parties and those having climate-change scepticism. The measures Germany has previously taken, such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the European Green Deal are amongst the schemes the AFD wishes to dismantle. The party has profited from its climate stance through its campaign against the Green Party, an integral part of the current ruling coalition.
Looking forward, it is yet to be seen the lasting impact that recent controversy will have on the AfD’s popularity. The recent protests ‘against racism, hate speech and in favour of liberal democracy’, took place across more than 100 locations and indicate a pushback from the voting public. There have been discussions around a blanket ban on the party, but many claim that due to the ‘anti-democratic’ nature of such a move it would likely only add fuel to the fire.