Global Independent Analytics
Lionel Baland
Lionel Baland

Location: Belgium

Specialization: Euroscepticism, Patriotic parties of Europe

Rapprochement between the Austrian FPÖ and the German AfD

Heinz-Christian Strache: “The co-operation between the patriotic forces is more important than ever!”

If in Austria, the nationalist party FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs - Freedom Party of Austria) is very strong and  the opinion polls place it as the first party in the country giving it more than 30%, in Germany the comparable party, the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland- Alternative for Germany) has been strong in the polls for only some months. Although the two parties are not in the same group in the European Parliament, FPÖ took part at a conference of AfD titled: “European visions: Visions for Europe.” This initiates the development of closer ties between the two political organizations.

European visions. Visions for Europe.

On Saturday February 13 2016, the president of the FPÖ, Heinz-Christian Strache and his fellow the General Secretary of the FPÖ Harald Vilimsky came to Düsseldorf in Germany to participate at a conference of the AfD. This meeting was not logical because the AfD and the FPÖ are not, at the moment, in the same European political family. The AfD sits in the European Parliament in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) political group with the British Conservative Party, the Polish national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS - Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) and with other conservative parties and patriotic parties as the Danish People's Party or the Finns Party. The FPÖ is in the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group, along with the National Front (France), the PVV of Geert Wilders (The Netherlands), the Northern League (Italy), the Vlaams Belang (Flanders, Belgium), the Congress of the New Right (Poland), the MEP Laurențiu Rebega (Roumania) and the MEP Janice Atkinson (United Kingdom).

At the Fair center in Düsseldorf, Frauke Petry and H.C. Strache said said in a joint press conference that the two parties have a great deal in common, that cooperation between the two parties is important and that they will speak about the need to do so. They added that the FPÖ and the AfD have to face defamatory campaigns of the mainstream media.

At the congress, the first speaker, the leader of the FPÖ delegation at the European parliament Harald Vilimsky, spoke about the financial and currency crises that have demonstrated the helpless state of the European Union. He added that the actual mass migrations proved the EU’s inefficiency.

H.C. Strache believes that Western Europe has to face a lot of threats: terrorism, crime, unemployment, the collapse of the social system. The FPÖ-leader said: “The co-operation between the patriotic forces is more important than ever!” and “The European unity has to be founded on the diversity. It will be always a challenge, but it’s one of the characteristics of our continent.” He got a lot of applauses and a standing ovation.

The evolution of the AfD

At the beginning, the AfD worked to distance itself from every patriotic party. But after internal quarrels between the liberal wing of Bernd Lucke and the patriotic wing of Frauke Petry, Bernd Lucke left the party in July 2015 and founded a softer party: Alfa (Alliance for Progress and Renewal). After the split, the AfD was not successful at the opinion polls, but the open-door policy of Angela Merkel that is attracting many hundreds of thousand of migrants and refugees, boosted the AfD. The party can now attract part of the voters who are afraid about the consequences of this invasion on their own safety and way of life. This evolution made this rapprochement possible.

The end of the patriotic desert in Germany?

For years, the German patriotic political field was a kind of a desert. In the Eastern part of the country, the patriotic family had to face on the oneside  the competition of the very radical nationalist party NPD and the less radical DVU (this two parties merged on the first of January 2011), and on the  other side the rivalry of the nationalist wing of the Christian Democratic party CDU (as expressed in, for example, MP Erika Steinbach, or until 2006 Henry Nitzsche in Saxony). In the West, die Republikaner (The Republicans) got some success at the end of the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s but fell down and have not been in a position, until now, to come back to the political scene 25 years after their last achievement. The former judge Ronald Schill was the number two of the government of the state/city Hamburg between 2001 and 2003 with his Partei Rechtsstaatlicher Offensive (Party for a Rule of Law Offensive). After an electoral defeat in 2004, he ended his involvement in politics and left the country. In the State North Rhine-Westphalia, pro-Köln party in Cologne, and pro-NRW party in other cities, won some local elections but failed to win seats at the higher level. The two parties are now separated and pro Köln is linked to pro-Deutschland that is active in the State/city of Berlin. The fight between pro-NRW and pro-Köln in North Rhine-Westphalia can only lead to a dead end. In the State/city of Bremen, the DVU entered the parliament at different times; Bürger in Wut (BIW) (Citizens in Rage) of Jan Timke has been sitting, since 2007, in this assembly, and the AfD entered there for the first time in 2015. The DVU sat one time in the Parliament of the State Schleswig-Holstein, between 1992 and 1996.

The patriotic field of the German political landscape in the next years can be only occupied by two parties: the very soft patriotic Alfa and the AfD – which is becoming more and more patriotic.

Will the AfD move to the ENF?

After the split, five of the seven AfD MEPs moved to Alfa and two stayed at the AfD. But all these MEPs are still in the European Conservatives and Reformists groups (with the only MEP of the Family Party of Germany there too). This group unites conservatives and patriotic parties from different countries. After the 2014 European elections, it captured different nationalist parties: New Flemish Alliance (Flanders-Belgium), IMRO – Bulgarian National Movement (Bulgaria), the MEP Ruža Tomašić (Croatia) from the Croatian Conservative Party (she was before then at the nationalist Croatian Party of Rights of Dr. Ante Starčević and before that at the Croatian Party of Rights), Danish People's Party, Finns Party and National Alliance (Latvia). The tactic from the British conservatives had been to cut the grass from underneath the feet of the British patriotic UKIP. UKIP had difficulties building a group but did so when the French National Front MEP Joëlle Bergeron joined UKIP, the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo (Italy), the Sweden Democrats and other parties. They built together the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group. When the Lithuanian MEP Iveta Grigule left, the group had to be dissolved because it did not have anymore the requirement needed to exist, but a Polish MEP came and saved the group.

National Front, PVV, Lega Nord, FPÖ and Vlaams Belang were the losers in the fight between the British Conservatives and UKIP. They stayed without a group and lost the advantages of the group for one year because they didn’t reach the requisite 25 MEPs from 7 EU member nations (they got the requisite number of MEPs but not of 7 nations). In June 2015, these parties founded the Europe of Nations and Freedom with former UKIP MEP Janice Atkinson and the Congress of the New Right MEPs (Poland). The Romanian MEP Laurențiu Rebega joined it in July 2015. This group now has MEPs from eight countries and is interested in getting two more MEPs from the AfD: Beatrix von Storch and Marcus Pretzell. The group will thus avoid all bad surprises and will not be anymore under the pressure of possible desertions that could lead to the end of the group. In addition, the FPÖ is an Austrian party that wobbles between Austrian and German nationalism but stays in the political inheritance camp of the 1848 liberal Revolution, linked to the idea of a big Germany joining together with all the German speaking people, and is of course very interested in finding a solid implementation partner at the national level in Germany. (In the past, they could only have a relationship with pro-Köln/pro-NRW or with the last remnants of die Republikaner.)

And PEGIDA ?

PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) is strong in Dresden and can attract every Monday to the street a lot of demonstrators. Will PEGIDA become a party or will it remain a protest movement? It’s the big question. The PEGIDA leaders want to jump into the electoral arena but they hesitate. If PEGIDA goes to the elections, it will be a big problem for the AfD, because it seems that PEGIDA will get more votes than AfD. (An Emnid opinion poll from February 2016 shows that if PEGIDA took part at the national German elections, 8% would vote for PEGIDA and 6% for the AfD. At the first turn of the election to the mayor of Dresden in June 2015, the independent candidate sustained by PEGIDA Tatjana Festerling got 9.6 % of the vote and the AfD candidate Stefan Vogel 4.8 %.) PEGIDA can be seen as a gun placed to the head of the AfD.

PEGIDA has some international connections. Geert Wilders of the PVV visited PEGIDA in Dresden; Filip Dewinter and Anke Van dermeersch of the Vlaams Belang (Flanders, Belgium) spoke at a PEGIDA meeting in Dresden and the president of PEGIDA Lutz Bachmann came to Flanders to speak. Tatjana Festerling, one of PEGIDA’s leading figures, went to Vienna, the capital city of Austria, for a ball of the FPÖ and spoke with the main theorist of the party Andreas Mölzer.

The lack of experienced militants

The main issue for AfD and PEGIDA in Germany, as for patriots in other countries in Europe, is the lack of trained militants and members. It takes years to teach and form politically experienced people. These are very hard to find in Germany because until some months ago these ideas were represented by only a small part of the population and because in the Western part of the country there were social pressures of the system and attacks of leftists against the patriots. The few of these experienced people are often in other patriotic parties or are no longer in politics.

No places for two parties on the same part of the political highway

At the national level, if two parties are very close, only one can survive. For example, after the split in France between Bruno Mégret (MNR) and Jean-Marie Le Pen (National Front), it was the latter who won (other patriotic parties exist at the lower level). In the Netherlands, the PVV of Geert Wilders won against Trots op Nederland (Proud of the Netherlands) led by Rita Verdonk (but different patriotic parties sit in the local assemblies throughout the country). In Austria, the BZÖ disappeared after the death of Jörg Haider and the FPÖ totally took over the patriotic political field at the national level (some other patriotic parties exist in Austria at the local or regional level).

A hard job

If at the moment the AfD gets in the opinion polls 12-13%, sits in some States Parliaments and will soon enter in others, the party has to develop and implement itself everywhere in Germany. It’s a hard job. And if PEGIDA tries to do the same, it will be a big fight between the two organizations to get the voters and find experienced militants.

In the last decades in the Federal Republic of Germany, different patriotic parties sat in some Parliaments of different States but never succeed to stay for a long time in these assemblies and these parties never sat in the German Parliament. Since WWII, a patriotic party never managed to implement itself for a long time in the German political landscape. Maybe these international rapprochements between the AfD and the FPÖ or between PEGIDA and the Vlaams Belang will help these two recent German movements. They will benefit from the large political experience of the patriotic parties from other countries and maybe finally one will find out its way to stay for the next decades in the political landscape of the country.

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