The AfD and the German Election 2017

Have the Germans gone crazy again? Are the Nazis back? Is the AfD threatening the German democracy? Who are the AfD supporters: conservatives? nationalists? racists? fascists? Or can we explain what happened during the last election without preparing ourselves for the end of the world?

87% Losers

People around the world were shocked when the first statistics about the outcome of last Sunday's election in Germany were published: the BBC called the result a "shake-up" and a "turning point"; the New York Times sees in the AfD's entering the Bundestag the "breaking of a postwar taboo"; in the Figaro one can read about the "breakthrough" of the far right; and the Guardian finds that the "German election has redefined [the] narrative of European politics." Nevertheless, 87% of all voters did not vote AfD; as the Hashtag #87prozent mentions. So, who are the other 13%?

The Origins of AfD

When one reads about AfD, one has to think about Beatrix von Storch's "Schießbefehl" to secure the European borders against immigrants by shooting on women and children, or about Alexander Gauland's opinion that "Islam is not a normal religion", or about the antisemitic comments of Wolfgang Gedeon (I refuse to quote him here, but here is an article of the FAZ about him). And with all these comments that have attracted so much media attention one forgets that originally AfD was founded when the Eurozone started to bail out Greece. It was meant to be a conservative party that would push forward more market liberalisation, would lead Germany out of the Eurozone, and was led by several academics and economists, including their founder Professor Gerd Lucke. And while AfD is now associated with Pegida and their hate speech against immigrants, jews, and Merkel, they existed before, and they had quite some votes before the refugee crises reached its climax in 2015.

Danke, Merkel!

When the AfD was founded in 2013, it was a party to the right of Merkel's Christ Democratic Union from the very beginning. A few racists, certainly, but many conservatives that could not identify themselves with Merkel's politics during the past 8 years: Energiewende, Frauenquote, Atom-Memorandum are only three keywords: topics that had been at the very core of the Green Party and the Social Democrats have been implemented under Merkel's CDU together with their sister party CSU. The party that could not have any other democratic legitimate party on their right according to their former Secretary General Franz-Josef Strauß was now forced to implement policies that attracted voters left of the center. Merkel's strategy to shift the CDU/CSU to the left helped her to win several elections, in particular as the Social Democrats were unable to develop a profile that would separate them from the left wing party Die Linke and from CDU/CSU. But: by gaining voters in the center of the political spectrum she let down the right wing of her own party. For them AfD was what it promised: and alternative. So, it was no surprise that at the election in 2013, only a few months after they had been founded, they won 4.7% of the votes, and it was only the 5% electoral threshold that kept them from entering the parliament.

Ignoring the Signs

I had expected that the sudden strength of this party would make the CDU/CSU leaders think. After all they found themselves in a situation which was very similar to the one of SPD a couple of years before, when WASG and PDS merged and became the new far left party Die Linke. But the intrigues that were plotted and the battles that were fought within AfD pointed towards a very easy solution: waiting until they would destroy themselves. So, Merkel continued with her social democratic programme: during the refugee crises she ignored all warnings from the right wing within her party. She had the same hope that 87% of us have: that Germany is a friendly country, that can take responsibility in human crises, whose people are eager to help those in need. And she ignored the other 13% and their fears, no matter how unjustified or irrational. The voices that were heard out of AfD were those of bigot racists; but a big part of AfD voters are simply disappointed conservatives. And instead of fighting for their votes and win them back Merkel continued to ignore them, again.

The future of AfD

The fights within AfD make some people believe that this party will destroy itself. I am not that optimistic: its voters are partly, but not only, protest voters. There is a basis of disappointed conservatives who will be able to organise themselves. I see two options for the future of German politics. One: CDU/CSU continue with their current profile, establish themselves on both sides of the center and marginalise the Social Democrats. In this case there will be a party on their right, at 10-15%; so big enough to be in parliament, but small enough for not being a threat to the democratic process. In ten years this party will have matured and might join a government. Option two: CDU/CSU return to their original more conservative profile and are able to regain big parts of the AfD voters. AfD eventually dissolves as the rest of the party will go down in intrigues. In this case there is no far right party in the parliament, but policies will be more conservative than they have been over the past 12 years.

For the next four years one has to accept that there will be a party in the German Bundestag that has too many members with extremist views than one would hope for. But maybe a "gäriger Haufen" of 13% is the price one has to pay for several years of a rather liberal government, that tried to form an open and tolerant society.