Global Independent Analytics
Tobias Nase
Tobias Nase

Location: Germany

Specialization: Syria, US Foreign policy, Ukraine

An Alternative for Germany?

Are the upcoming regional elections in Germany about to bring change?

The political situation is tense. Next weekend elections are going to be held in three of the sixteen federal states of Germany. “State parliament elections are often interpreted as national test elections”, says Professor Kai Arzheimer of the University of Mainz's Political Science department. And these three elections are especially interesting because they are the first major elections in Germany since the refugee crisis in Europe that drastically deepened last year. But are the upcoming elections really able to bring any change to Angela Merkel’s course?

The rise of a new party

In 2013 a new party entered the political landscape of Germany. It called itself “Alternative für Deutschland” (Alternative for Germany) or AfD in short. It started as a Eurosceptic party praising conservativism on the one hand but also radical financial liberalism on the other hand. It also asked for a return to the pre-Euro currency “Deutsche Mark”, viewing the introduction of the Euro as a “historical failure”. While the party initially had great success winning some seats in the European parliament, many people turned their back on it during an internal conflict in the party that lasted for months. Eventually a split ensued between the national-conservative wing and the radical free-market liberal wing of the party. The winners of this internal split were the national-conservatives, who took over the party in July 2015.  Bernd Lucke and his more market focused “liberal” faction were not reelected into the party’s executive committee and so Lucke left the AfD after his defeat.

From that time on the AfD became even more nationalistic in its stance. Especially in the question of mass-immigration to Europe where it is now the only large party in Germany opposing Merkel’s “Refugees welcome” policy.

Currently any open criticism of the government’s immigration policy is usually being denounced as racist or even fascist. Since its foundation the AfD was constantly attacked by the mainstream media in such a manner. The problem hereby is that until now there has been no open debate about the topic of immigration or even about the actual political program of the AfD.

The united liberal front

The current existing opposition parties in the German parliament (Die Grüne and DIE LINKE – liberal environmentalists and leftists) are on the same page on the refugee question as the governing alliance of social-democrats and conservatives (SPD and CDU) and of course as Chancellor Angela Merkel. And this broad alliance of government and the ‘opposition’ are attacking with the help of the media everybody and anybody who tries to leave the liberal mainstream dogma on the issue of immigration. Politicians are even attacked within the ranks of their own parties. When the German left-wing member of parliament Sarah Wagenknecht of DIE LINKE spoke out about the refugee crisis saying that Germany would be “torn apart” if another one million refugees enter Germany this year, she was directly attacked by other party members.

Whoever does not agree with the government on the refugee question nowadays has no other opportunity but voting for the AfD – simply because there is currently no other party that takes this position. Therefore, it is not surprising that the AfD has massively grown in the forecasts for the upcoming elections. Especially in eastern Germany, where the resentments against refugees are stronger, the AfD could now become the third biggest party in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt with about 19% of the vote according to the latest forecasts.

However, Germany is still divided between east and west. The eastern economy is - after the fall of socialism in eastern Germany - still unable until today to fully recover from the consequences of the forced takeover of its economy by the west. The GDP of the east is clearly far behind the GDP of the west. And these economic and also cultural differences make it harder for the AfD to be as successful in the west as it can be in the east. Additionally, the AfD in its membership and political alignment is different according to region. This is reflected in the results of the current election forecasts. In the other two western German states where elections are being held next weekend, the AfD is predicted to gain around 10%. But this is already a big surprise. Only a few people would have thought this was possible a half a year ago.

A question remains: Is the AfD really going to bring change?

The rise of the AfD is a logical phenomenon, which followed the marginalization of mass immigration critics. But is the party going to have an impact on the current political establishment in Germany? And is it actually a solution for the current geopolitical situation, where Germany tries to find its position?

The AfD is still a very young party. Many of its members were not actively involved in politics in the past. And the political program of the AfD remains in many points unclear. This seems to be a general problem of the AfD. It has a clear stance towards the immigration issue, but the rest of its political program comes either too short in debates or is just non-existent. The party has no official program yet and the only basic programmatic points for the elections are dated back to 2013 – the early beginning of the party before its split. However, there are also the regional programs of the party for the upcoming elections this week. In these programs the party is asking for the lifting of sanctions against Russia. While in the basis of the party we find a clear position that seeks friendship with Russia, it remains unclear if the party leadership has the same position. Because of the deepening confrontation between the blocs this question will become essential for the German population in future. In one of the recent speeches of Björn Höcke, who is a member of parliament of the federal state of Thuringia for the AfD, he addressed the Russian media that was present during his speech. He said that “sanctions against Russia are not in Germany’s interest” but that “doesn't mean I don't want also to be friends with the Americans”. Höcke added that America is far away, “but Russia is our neighbor”.

The AfD will inevitably bring change

In Saxony-Anhalt especially the formation of the next regional government will be problematic. If the elections are going to end like the prognosis says they will, there will be a strong opposition of the left-wing DIE LINKE (21%), the right-wing AfD (19%) and the liberal environmentalists of the Green party (5.5%). The governing coalition of the conservatives from CDU (31%) together with the social democrats of the SPD (15%) will be unable to form a new government. They would have to form a new coalition and currently the only possible solution would be to cooperate with the Green party, which is also politically the closest one. This tripartite coalition would hardly be able to govern the state. But a coalition with the left-wing DIE LINKE is as unlikely as having the AfD in government. Currently nobody wants to see the AfD in government, not even the AfD itself. According to the deputy party leader Alexander Gauland it would be “deadly” to form a governmental coalition with the more experienced parties, because the AfD personnel still lacks experience. But in the opposition together with DIE LINKE it would not be very productive either, because both parties are unlikely to cooperate with each other.

Conclusion

In the upcoming weeks and months after the elections the AfD has to prove that it really is an alternative on the German political landscape beyond the refugee question. Until now the party failed to address the social question that is very relevant especially in the eastern regions where the party is very strong. But the AfD will inevitably bring change to German politics. For the first time in years there is now a serious political force that is more right-wing than the established parties. And with the lack of possibilities to form either a united government or a united opposition, Germany will become less governable. 

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