In September 2012, the Alternative für Deutschland, then known as Germany’s “professor’s party”, was founded by Alexander Gauland, Bernd Lucke and Konrad Adam. It was seen as Germany’s answer to the populist and nationalist shift in European politics. However, it had none of the nasty undertones of the Front National in France or the True Finns. The “founding fathers” of the party and those who endorsed the party in the beginning all had very respectable backgrounds. The party manifesto was signed by 68 economist, journalists and business leaders. It focussed on the lingering eurozone crisis, claiming that the eurozone had proven to be unsuitable as a currency area and the competitive pressure of the euro was forcing the Southern European states into poverty. They were always regarded as conservative, maybe slightly populist, but never outright right-wing populist, as many other Eurosceptic parties in the European Union. It narrowly failed to enter the Bundestag (Germany's parliament) in the 2013 election. However, in the 2014 EU elections, the party won 7.1% of the German vote, sending 7 members to the EU parliament.
Then the migrant crisis happened and things changed quite dramatically. At the 4 July 2015 party convention, Bernd Lucke lost the party leadership to Frauke Petry, a member of the right-wing faction of the party. Following the convention the party split, 5 MEPs left and Lucke announced his resignation, claiming it was turning into a “Pegida party” (i.e. the rise of xenophobia and islamophobia). He went on to found the party “Allianz für Fortschritt und Aufbruch” (Alliance for Progress and Renewal, ALFA) with the original ideals of the AfD and the 5 MEPs.
AfD election posters during the March 2016 Baden-Württemberg state elections. (Photo: KNE)
The AfD drifted from one public outcry to the next, such as Petry’s comment that the police should have the right to shoot at migrants illegally crossing the border. In the March 2016 state elections the party won a significant amount of the vote, even coming second in Saxony-Anhalt with 24.2% of the vote. While the success of the party was not necessarily linked to the party programme, but rather a result of a deep dissatisfaction of the political establishment, the future of the party does depend on content.
At a party convention on 1 May 2016 the AfD decided on a party platform, giving insights into what exactly the party wants outside of its main topics: the euro and migrant crises. And the result: an anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, conservative, Eurosceptic and right-wing populist party with some neoliberal elements.
According to the FAZ, one of the most frequently said sentences by the party board was “if we write this in the party platform, we will make ourselves ridiculous”. The convention pointed out the persisting internal contradictions of the party as well as the Volkswille (the will of the people, i.e. those dissatisfied with the political establishment).
Even though the programme of the AfD is, in some parts, becoming more similar to parties on the extreme right, such as the NPD or Die Republikaner, most of its voters come from the political centre. In the recent Baden-Württemberg state elections, of the 810,000 AfD voters (15.1% of the vote) nearly 45% voted for the established parties (CDU, the Green Party, SPD and FDP) in the 2011 elections. Further, they managed to convince a sizeable amount of those who did not vote in the last elections. But overall, most of the voters were convinced by the party’s opposition to the government’s policy in the migrant crisis. The party has to prove it can do more than that.
The AfD sees itself as the party of common sense ("Partei des gesunden Menschenverstandes"). They want to reverse the social change that has happened in the last decades to return to a pre-1968 Germany - without immigrants, "gender craze", English language tuition at universities, renewable energy and everything else associated with it. If it were to the AfD, cultural institutions would have to create a positive image of the country and contribute to a patriotic German identification. Not to mention that most German classic plays and novels are not exactly ideal in promoting a "positive image" of Germany. In economic terms, the party favours neoliberal policies and a return to the European Economic Community.
Who 2016 AfD voters voted for in the 2011 Baden-Württemberg elections. Those who did not live in the state (3.1%) are not mentioned. Statistic: KNE, Source: infratest dimap for ARD
The FAZ attests the party to suffer under the same "Wir schaffen das"- syndrome (Merkel's infamous three words that apparently triggered the migrant crisis - "we will cope") that they criticise so vehemently. On the one hand, the AfD wants to free the people of political correctness and the state from indoctrinating its citizens. On the other hand, however, the party aims to do exactly that - just through AfD's politically correct lenses. Not to mention the party's stance on freedom of religion and on Islam. According to the new party platform, Islam is not compatible with the German constitution and minarets should be banned.
While the party manifesto agreed upon might not actually be that extreme as those of other Eurosceptic parties, it shows that the AfD has not managed to establish itself as a Conservative party on the right to the CDU. Rather, it is trying to stir up politics with inflammatory comments by some of its members and supporters that are hugely generalising and make an already insecure public more nervous. This is not conservative politics but using the existing insecurities and giving easy solutions on the cost of an underrepresented and already hated minority (e.g. by connecting the entire German Muslim population with the actions of extremists groups, such as ISIS). An AfD state MP from Saxony claimed that Islam is foreign to Germany and, therefore, should not be given the same degree of religious freedom as Christianity. While his proposal was not included in the final party platform, it did receive loud applause. The party is eager to stay within the democratic spectrum (to not be ridiculed and taken seriously) but it clearly attracts people (in this case even a state MP) who do not take the constitution too seriously.
By claiming that Islam is not compatible with the constitution and that mosques should not be allowed to have minarets in the same way like churches have steeples, the party suggests that there is some imminent danger associated with Islam. It is not directly what is said but what is associated with their inflammatory and generalising views. Of course, the future success of the AfD also depends on how well the national government handles the migrant crisis and the integration of accepted refugees. However, political rhetoric has become harsher and will not return to normality any time soon.