Although federal elections do not occur until 2017, current state elections reflect the wavering of Germany’s political stability. At Berlin’s 18 September state elections, Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU party suffered a historic defeat to the Social Democratic Party (SPD). This blow to ruling, mainstream parties provides opportunities for political success. The new political party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is one group making distinct gains. In the 2013 national election, the AfD missed the 5% mark needed to make it into the Bundestag.
With its total opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and to the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), as well as a Eurosceptic platform, politicians label AfD as a far-right party.
Founded in February 2013 by economist Bernd Lucke, the party’s initial platform centered on opposing the euro and bailouts to poorer European Union (EU) countries. After being ousted from his chairperson position in 2015, Lucke dubbed the party “inhuman, cruel, unbearable.” Under Freuke Petry, the current chairperson, and spokesperson Jörg Meuthen, the platform shifted towards a more anti-Islam, anti-immigration, and Eurosceptic focus. Following an increase in the number of migrants coming into Germany in 2014-2015 under Merkel’s “open door” migrant policy, the party capitalized on nationalist backlash in order to gain support, as seen in AfD’s presence at 3 October’s Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) protests at German Unity Day in Dresden. AfD now supports closing the EU’s external borders and reintroducing border patrols, which would be permitted to shoot migrants attempting to enter the country illegally. According to Petry, multiculturalism does not work, as migrants given “false hopes” by the German government arrive in the country without the skills needed for proper integration and are disappointed by life, turning to crime. The party’s leader suggests that mass immigrant crime will “destroy Germany.”
These strict asylum rules reverse the EU’s ‘Schengen Area,’ the free movement zone with minimal border checks in most of Europe. In addition to contradicting the EU’s travel policy, the AfD also rejects the EU’s deal with Turkey aiming to stop the influx of migrants via the Balkans by allowing them visa-free travel in the Schengen Zone. This rejection proves to be controversial, as Germany, especially in cosmopolitan Berlin, has a large population of Muslim Turkish origin (approximately 3 million). AfD’s program states that “Islam does not belong to Germany” as it goes against “the free, democratic social foundation, our laws, and the Judaeo-Christian and humane bases of [Germany’s] culture”.
Following other right-wing parties such as the French National Front, UK Independence Party, and Austria’s Freedom Party, AfD’s anti-European policy rejects the EU’s call to keep the Euro. Challenging Eurozone bailouts, AfD politicians believe German taxpayers should not be “liable for debts incurred by profligate Eurozone governments,” tying into German anxiety stemming from the Greek debt crisis. According to the AfD, more power should return to nation-states instead of Euro-federalist organizations. The party’s platform commits the AfD to pulling Germany out of the EU if the EU fails to radically decentralize.
Criticizing Merkel’s “open door” policy, the AfD states that Merkel is not providing the German people with appropriate safety. In a recent press conference, the AfD continued to outline their agenda, expressing their wish to be sensible and work with all parties, yet also discussing the actions that “worked for them,” such as “stirring up xenophobia” to gain support.
Looking Ahead to 2017
In all five state parliament elections held in Germany this year, the AfD gained double digit scores. Its biggest victory of 24 percent occurred in Saxony-Anhalt’s March election. Gaining 14 percent in Berlin’s elections in July, AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch claimed they were on course to become the third largest party in the country in the 2017 federal elections.
For the first time since July, the AfD is losing the support of voters. According to a Forsa poll, 13 percent of Germans would vote for the AfD, a 1 percent loss since the end of September. Despite months of growth and success in state elections (with a record-high approval rating of 16 percent), the party has stopped growing. Recent polling did not show an increase in support for traditional ruling parties, such as the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In Forsa’s poll, the SPD dropped a point to 22 percent, while the CDU stayed stable at 33 percent.
The 2017 federal election will elect members of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, for four-year terms. With 598 seats in the Bundestag, 300 seats are needed to hold majority. 299 members will be elected in single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting with another 299 allocated from party lists. Voters have two votes, one for the candidate in their single-member constituency and one for the party list in their multi-member constituency. This achieves proportional distribution in the legislature according to mixed member proportional (MMP) representation. The date for the election has yet to be determined, but must occur between 27 August and 22 October, 48 months after the Bundestag’s first sitting.
Parties and leaders likely to participate in 2017 Federal Election
|Party||Ideology||Leader(s)||Seats at 2013 Election|
|Christian Democratic Union (CDU)||Christian Democracy, Liberal Conservatism||Angela Merkel (Current Chancellor)||311 (41.5%)|
|Social Democratic Party (SPD)||Social Democracy||Sigmar Gabriel (Minister for Economy, Vice Chancellor)||193 (25.7%)|
|The Left||Democratic Socialism, Left-wing Populism||Katja Kipping, Bernd Riexinger||64 (8.6%)|
|Alliance ‘90/The Greens||Green Politics, Ecologism, Social Liberalism||Cem Ӧzdemir, Simone Peter||63 (8.4%)|
|Christian Social Union (CSU-CDU’s Bavarian Sister Party)||Bavarian Regionalism, Christian Democracy||Horst Seehofer||_|
|Free Democratic Party (FDP)||Liberalism, Classical Liberalism||Christian Lindner||0 (4.8%)|
|Alternative for Germany (AfD)||Right-wing Populism, Euroscepticism||Frauke Petry||0 (4.7%)|