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4 September 2013

Germany’s eurosceptics dare to be different

The outcome of the forthcoming German general election could be determined by the performance of a new eurosceptic political party called the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

It's tempting to describe the AfD as Germany’s UKIP, but its leaders have made it clear that they have more in common with the British Conservative Party than with Nigel Farage and friends. Furthermore, while the AfD wants an end to the Eurozone, it supports Germany’s continued membership of a reformed European Union.

Despite a policy platform that would be considered wholly unremarkable in a British context, the AfD is the target of sustained abuse in Germany – some of it violent. Friederike Heine reports on recent events for Spiegel Online:

  • “Bernd Lucke [the AfD’s leader] is among the most controversial figures in Germany. His political agenda – which includes an ‘orderly dissolution’ of the euro, a decentralized European Union and a move towards Swiss-style, direct democracy – is often met with doubt, and sometimes outright hostility.
  • “Last week, left-wing agitators stormed the stage at an Alternative for Germany (AfD) campaign event, pushing Lucke to the ground and using pepper spray on several campaigners. The attack came as little surprise, though, after a confrontation with Green Youth activists earlier this month prompted the AfD to apply for police protection on its campaign trail.”

The pressure hasn’t just come from leftwing rentamobs, but also from the mainstream media:

  • “This spring, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper ran a piece on the hidden ties between the AfD and members of the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). The AfD's stance on Europe, a Berlin NPD official told the paper, was closer to NPD policies ‘than any other established party in Germany.’ Other German newspapers have taken a similar line.”

Might these newspapers have a point? The facts would suggest that they don’t:

  • “Suspicions that the AfD may be moving into right-wing extremist territory were put into question last week, however. An Internet study published by linkfluence – a Franco-German social media monitoring company – shows that there is little or no overlap between the AfD's politics and those of the right-wing extremist NPD.
  • “The study, which was overseen by the company's German chief executive Oliver Tabino, consists of two parts: an analysis of AfD and NPD supporters' Facebook ‘likes,’ and an evaluation of hyperlinks to and from the AfD's various regional party websites.
  • “The Facebook analysis shows that supporters of the AfD and those of the NPD have little in common.”

Despite this evidence, the criticism of the AfD continues. For instance, in her otherwise fair and balanced article, Friederike Heine argues that “by advocating a break from consensus-oriented politics and decrying political correctness as a burden on free speech, the party is aligning itself with other right-wing populist movements across Europe.”

And yet the consensus that the AfD is breaking is on the Eurozone – which is hardly unreasonable in the circumstances. As for its European alignments, the AfD seems closest to David Cameron’s Conservative Party – which, in German eyes, is obviously what counts as a rightwing populist movement.


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