The media describes them as far-right, anti-European Union, anti-immigrant, fascist, etc. But what exactly are the positions of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party? Why is it steadily gaining in public opinion polls, and why is the German establishment so afraid of them?
Various AfD party members have made comments in recent years that, depending on your point of view, are offensive or were blown out of proportion by the media. I’m not going to review all those here but instead wanted to look at what policies are contained in the AfD platform. The party’s “Manifesto for Germany” is a 93-page document that covers just about everything, but I want to focus here on areas that the media most frequently focus on – immigration, the EU, and nationalism, as well as the set of positions that I would argue is the real reason for hyperventilating over AfD’s rise: foreign policy.
On the EU:
We oppose the idea to transform the European Union into a centralised federal state. We are in favour of returning the European Union to an economic union based on shared interests, and consisting of sovereign, but loosely connected nation states.…
We believe in a sovereign Germany, which guarantees the freedom and security of its citizens, promotes economic welfare, and contributes to a peaceful and prosperous Europe.
Should we not succeed with our ideas of a fundamental reform within the present framework of the European Union, we shall seek Germany‘s exit, or a democratic disso- lution of the EU, followed by the founding of a new Euro- pean economic union.…
European politics are characterised by a creeping loss of democracy. The EU has become an undemocratic entity, whose policies are determined by bureaucrats who have no democratic accountability.
On the Euro currency:
We call for an end to the Euro experiment and its orderly dissolution. Should the German Federal Parliament not agree to this demand, Germany’s continued membership of the single currency area should be put to a popular vote.…
The Euro actually jeopardises the peaceful co-existence of those European nations who are forced into sharing a common destiny by the Eurocracy. The introduction of this currency has led to resentment and confrontation amongst countries in Europe. Countries incurring economic difficulties within the single currency area are forced to restore their competitiveness by such measures as internal devaluation and associated budgetary constraints (austerity policies), rather than exploiting the tool of currency adjustments. Tensions amongst European nation states can inherently be ascribed to the Euro.
AfD doesn’t just oppose the Euro for altruistic reasons. The party also objects to any form of financial equalization between the richer and poorer euro countries and claims Germany shoulders an unfair burden in propping up the weaker members of the eurozone.
The political programme provides very little on labor policy, but AfD does want to provide financial incentives for Germans to reproduce. Here is the party on low birth rates and immigration:
In order to fight the effects of this negative demographic development, political parties currently in government support mass immigration, mainly from Islamic states, without due consideration of the needs and qualifications of the German labour market. During the past few years it has become evident that Muslim immigrants to Germany,in particular, only attain below-average levels of education, training and employment. As the birth rate is more than 1.8 children amongst immigrants, which is much higher than that of Germans, it will hasten the ethnic-cultural changes in society.
The attempt to counteract these developments by increasing the rate of immigration will inevitably lead to the estab lishment of more parallel communities, particularly inlarge cities, where integration with the native population is already a problem. The spread of conflict-laden and multiple minority communities erodes social solidarity, mutual trust, and public safety, which all are elements of a stable commu- nity. The average level of education will continue to drop.
Greater political support for parental work, as well as education and family policies which are focused on the needs of families and young couples wanting to start a family, will once again lead to birth rates at a self-sustaining rate in the medium to long-term. We regard the closing of the gap between the actual number of children being born, and the desire of 90% of young Germans to have children, as a central element of our political platform.
The document goes on for many pages about protecting the nation’s culture and how Islam is not a good fit for Germany. What exactly is that culture?
The AfD is committed to German as the predominant culture. This culture is derived from three sources: firstly, the religious traditions of Christianity; secondly, the scientific and humanistic heritage, whose ancient roots were renewed during the period of Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment; and thirdly, Roman law, upon which our constitutional state is founded.
Islam does not belong to Germany. Its expansion and the ever-increasing number of Muslims in the country are viewed by the AfD as a danger to our state, our society, and our values. An Islam which neither respects nor refrains from being in conflict with our legal system, or that even lays claim to power as the only true religion, is incompatible with our legal system and our culture. Many Muslims live as law-abiding and well-integrated citizens amongst us, and are accepted and valued members of our society. However, the AfD demands that an end is put to the formation and increased segregation by parallel Islamic societies relying
on courts with shari’a laws.
Here is the AfD immigration policy in a nutshell:
Current German and European asylum and refugee policies cannot be continued as in the past. The ill-fitting term “refugee” used for all the people who enter Germany irregularly with the aim to stay here forever, is characteristic of this misguided policy. It is necessary to make a distinction between political refugees and people fleeing from war on the one hand, and irregular migrants on the other. It is the AfD’s view that true refugees should be granted shelter as long as there is war in the countries of origin. Irregular migrants, who are not persecuted, have no right to claim protection, contrary to refugees. Once the reasons for fleeing, such as an end to wars, or political and religious persecution, no longer applies, shall residence permits of refugees be terminated. These refugees need to leave Germany. Germany and its EU partner countries should provide incentives for those who have to leave. It is in the interest of domestic and foreign peace if refugees return to their home countries and contribute to the political, economic and social reconstruction of these countries.
We advocate moderate legal immigration based on qualitative criteria where there is irrefutable demand, which can neither be satisfied from domestic resources, nor by EU immigration. The interests of Germany as a social, economic and cultural nation are paramount.
On militarization, foreign policy and the US:
Currently, the operational readiness of the German Armed Forces is severely compromised. Due to poor political decisions and mismanagement, our armed forces have been severely neglected for over three decades. The operational readiness has to be fully restored so that the armed forces will be able to perform all their responsibilities. This is an essential prerequisite for the acceptance of Germany as an equal partner by NATO, the EU and the international community.
Membership of NATO corresponds to Germany‘s interests with regard to foreign and security policy, as long as NATO’s role remains that of a defensive alliance. The AfD believes that predictability in meeting commitments towards NATO allies is an important goal of German foreign and security policy, so that Germany can develop more political weight to shape policies, and gain influence. We advocate that any engagement of NATO must be aligned to German interests, and has to correspond to a clearly defined strategy.
Wherever German Armed Forces, as part of NATO operations, are involved beyond the borders of its Alliance partners’ territory, shall, in principle, only be carried out under a UN mandate, and only if German security interests are taken into account.
On Germany’s occupation by allied troops (i.e., the US):
…70 years after the end of World War II, and 25 years after the end of a divided Europe, the renegotiation of the status of Allied troops in Germany should be put up for discussion. The status of Allied troops needs to be adapted to Germany’s regained sovereignty. The AfD is committed to the withdrawal of all Allied troops stationed on German soil, and in particular of their nuclear weapons.
And on Russia:
The relationship with Russia is of prime importance, because European security cannot be attained without Russia’s involvement. Therefore, we strive for a peaceful solution of conflicts in Europe, whilst respecting the interests of all parties.
Why Is AfD Surging in Popularity?
AfD is a relatively new party – it was founded in 2013. It first began to gain a foothold among disenchanted voters in East Germany during the refugee crisis in 2017, but with the onset of the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis in Germany, their support has been growing and spreading. What originally made AfD so attractive in East Germany?
According to Manès Weisskircher who researches social movements, political parties, democracy, and the far right at the Institute of Political Science, TU Dresden, AfD’s support in the East can be primarily traced to three factors:
- The neoliberal ‘great transformation,’ which has massively changed the eastern German economy and continues to lead to emigration and anxiety over personal economic prospects.
- An ongoing sense of marginalization among East Germans who feel they have never been fully integrated since reunification and resent liberal immigration policies in this context.
- Deep dissatisfaction with the functioning of the political system and doubt in political participation.
Recent polling contains interesting findings with regards to the AfD. It shows that 44 percent of Germans supporting the party do not have far-right views, but they are more concerned with inflation (90 percent) and immigration (87 percent) than the general public (78 and 56 percent, respectively). A whopping 78 percent of those who said they would vote for AfD said they would do so to show they were unhappy with current policies.
The rise of the AfD is rooted in the crisis of German neoliberalism, and the current war in Ukraine that accompanies it. The idea that the West would cause Russia to collapse, divide it into pieces and plunder its natural resources has spectacularly backfired.
The German economy is instead the one in a freefall. In response, Berlin continues to liberalize immigration laws to attract more foreigners with the hope it will help the economy – this despite the fact that half of German citizens would like the country to take in fewer refugees than it currently does.
A record high of 71 percent of the German public are not satisfied with the work of the federal government, according to a recent Deutschlandtrend survey. The current government is unresponsive to the concerns of working class voters. Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock famously summed up that reality last year:
HANKE’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT: Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said she will put Ukraine first “no matter what my German voters think.” It’s very rare to hear a local politician publicly say she (or he) will ignore the WILL of their VOTERS.https://t.co/hFQrNwSJEW
— Steve Hanke (@steve_hanke) October 25, 2022
The AfD is the only party in Germany making the connection between Berlin’s bellicose policy towards Moscow (and increasingly Beijing as well) and the worsening economic conditions for Germans.
The Greens, rather than examine their own failings, are blaming voters for not fully understanding their policies. They’ve launched a “charm” offensive to better explain their wisdom while simultaneously escalating their charges against the AfD. Tobias Riegel writes at NachDenkSeiten [machine translation]:
The [Green] chairman of the Europe Committee in the Bundestag, [Anton] Hofreiter, is currently warning against the AfD and has accused it of treason. He also did not rule out a ban on the party, as reported by the media . Two sentences by Hofreiter are particularly striking. On the one hand:
“You have to be aware of the incredible danger that the AfD poses to democracy and the rule of law, as well as to the prosperity of many people; that has not yet arrived in all parts of society.”
And on the other hand:
“There is also insufficient awareness of the danger that the AfD poses to our country’s external security in this difficult situation with increasingly aggressive dictatorships such as Russia and China. The AfD is predominantly a group of traitors who act not in the interests of our country but in the interests of opposing powers.”
If you swap “AfD” for “Greens” and if you swap “Russia” for “USA”, you could almost think Hofreiter is talking about himself and his leading party friends in these quotes.
Meanwhile, the country’s Left Party, which is considered a direct descendant of the Socialist Unity Party that ruled East Germany until reunification, has completely collapsed after abandoning nearly all of its platform in an attempt to appear “ready to govern.” Much like the bourgeoisie Greens, the Left increasingly stands for neoliberal, pro-war and anti-Russia policies. Former Left voters have increasingly switched to the AfD in response.
As long as the AfD is the only party in Germany willing to connect the dots between US control over German foreign policy and the increasing toll that is taking on the citizens’ standard of living, it will likely continue to attract voters.
Why Is There Such an Outcry Over AfD?
For years now, the German establishment has been throwing the kitchen sink at the AfD. There are of course allegations of Russia connections. They hate the disabled. They are extremist and must be monitored. A former AfD representative was also allegedly part of a coup plan involving 25 geriatrics that were inspired by QAnon and were somehow going to take over the government. Stories on the coup plot almost always focus on the AfD link and warnings that they are getting “more extreme.”
Most of these scare stories about the AfD originate from Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), which last year won the right to surveil AfD members after judges allowed the party to be branded a “suspicious entity.”
German authorities are now able to monitor and intercept mail correspondence, phone calls and online conversations. It can also limit members’ ability to get employment in the public sector and make it more difficult to obtain licenses for weapons.
(In the past, the BfV investigated members of the Left Party suspecting them of intending to replace the existing economic, political and social order with a socialist or communist system.)
Much of this seems ripped straight out of the US playbook for dealing with Trump and unruly voters in general: ignore the voters, blame the voters, and then release spooks.
The media hysteria over the AfD is reminiscent over the constant ringing of alarm bells over the election of the Italian Prime Minister and her Brothers of Italy party last year. Fascism was on the march, they declared. Well, Meloni has turned out to be a pretty run-of-the-mill corporate stooge who toes the line on the EU and NATO. Even her anti-immigrant rhetoric gave way to ensuring the arrival of a certain number in order to maintain the supply of cheap labor for Italian businesses. And the freak out over Meloni died down as soon as she proved her devotion to the EU and NATO.
Let’s not pretend that any of the concern over the AfD is due to its proposed policies regarding German culture and immigrants. It is because the party is advocating for positions that are a direct threat to Brussels and Washington. If it went forward with efforts to get Germany off the euro or boot US troops out of the country, it would collapse the whole EU-NATO system.
Despite the media and intelligence agency pressure, the AfD only seems emboldened. Beyond the party platform, AfD members have since gone further in their criticisms of the US.
Here’s Member of the European Parliament Maximilian Krah:
“It is certain that the German government was informed of the sabotage beforehand by the Americans. This is the only explanation for Scholz’s awkward silence. With the addition of a woke and irresponsible warmonger like [Foreign Minister Annalena] Baerbock, who declares that Germany is at war with Russia, nothing surprises me.
The problem is that this is tearing the German economy to pieces and significantly impoverishes Germany. Moreover, the billions spent by Germany on this gas project, which ensured us cheap energy, are lost, but the coalition which governs Germany does not care. Officially, Scholz knows nothing. Apparently, we live in a democracy.”
The AfD is also increasingly critical of Berlin’s stance towards China, which it believes is being driven by US interests and Germany’s detriment. From Deutsche Welle:
The AfD has positioned itself in opposition to the German government’s critical policy toward China. Berlin’s China Strategy, published in mid-July, for example, was denounced by Bystron, the AfD’s foreign policy spokesperson, as the “attempt to implement green-woke ideology and US geopolitical interests under the guise of a strategy for German foreign policy.”
The description of China in the strategy as a rival — as well as a partner and competitor — was for Bystron “the consequence of the US’ confrontational course toward China. This confrontation and division are not in the interests of Germany as an export nation,” he said.
For political scientist Wolfgang Schroeder from the University of Kassel, the AfD’s foreign policy positions demonstrate an attempt to set itself apart from the other German political parties. Geopolitically, said Schroeder, the AfD sees the traditional Western ties with the United States, which it regards as hegemonic, as having past their use-by date.
“The AfD considers Washington to be more part of the problem than part of the solution to the challenges facing Germany,” he told DW. “That’s because the AfD considers the US an imperial actor whose vested interests cannot be reconciled with those of Germany.”
The AfD is essentially calling for a return to the Angela Merkel foreign policy based on Wandel durch Handel (“transformation through trade”). It relied on cheap Russian gas imports and exports to its largest trading partner, China.
There is now a central disconnect to Germany’s foreign policy and domestic policy. As Berlin follows the wishes of the US, lives for the citizens of Germany will continue to worsen. How can Germany reconcile this?
German Chacellor Olaf Scholz’s Zeitenwende was essentially a promise to the US that Germany will from now on take up its sword in defense of US hegemony and morally superior purposes (such as Baerbock’s feminist foreign policy that aligns neatly with Washington’s enemy list) against Russia, China, Iran, and whoever else threatens the “rules-based order.”
The AfD, whether you agree or disagree with its other positions, is for now the sole German party standing against such an arrangement.
The German state’s harassment of the Left Party appears to have worked in getting it to abandon its previously “radical” goals of empowering workers, dissolving NATO and getting US troops out of Germany. We’ll have to wait and see what path the AfD takes.