Markus Ziener serves as a senior visiting fellow at the German Marshal Fund in Berlin.
In Germany, there is frequent news coverage about the increasing popularity of the right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD). This trend is not limited to just the eastern states known for their support of the AfD, but is also gaining traction in western regions.
Currently, the AfD is experiencing significant success in Saxony, Thuringia, and Brandenburg, with support exceeding 30 percent. The party is also making gains in the former West German states of Hesse and Bavaria, where it is projected to receive approximately 15 percent of the vote in this weekend’s elections.
Previously known as a party that only appealed to the extreme right, the AfD has now gained acceptance from a larger portion of voters. While polls do not necessarily reflect election outcomes, they are causing major upheaval in the German political sphere.
In regional and local areas, it is becoming more challenging to create alliances that can effectively oppose AfD candidates. In Sonneberg, a district located in southern Thuringia, an AfD candidate was able to defeat a united front of The Left, Social Democrats, Greens, Liberals, and Christian Democrats (CDU) to secure a district council seat. Similarly, in Raguhn-Jeßnitz, a town with a population of 9,000 in Saxony-Anhalt, a right-wing candidate was successful in winning the mayoral election against a joint nominee supported by all other parties.
As the number of left-wing parties aligning with each other increases, their differences become less apparent. This ultimately supports the AfD’s belief that they are the only true opposition and that voters should reject the traditional, established parties.
Maintaining the “firewall” against the AfD (Alternative for Germany) proves to be challenging, as their significant presence in state parliaments hinders efforts to govern against them.
In Thuringia, an instance occurred where the CDU proposed a reduction in land transfer tax, and it was backed by the AfD, resulting in a majority vote. This led to accusations of the conservatives collaborating with the far-right party. The CDU faced a dilemma: Should they reject a reasonable proposal just because it has support from the AfD? This decision would greatly restrict the party’s ability to make any significant changes, particularly for the CDU.
Since the conservatives are the party most aligned with the AfD, this scenario has resulted in significant outcomes. Despite their initial aim of reducing support for the far-right party by half, the AfD has actually gained almost twice as many voters since the 2021 federal election, with a current nationwide poll of around 20 percent, while the CDU’s support remains at a maximum of 30 percent.
However, the CDU has not only failed to meet its goals, but it is also becoming more confused about how to react.
When the party supports ideas that the AfD also promotes during their campaigns, most other parties quickly accuse them of wrongdoing. This has happened with topics such as immigration, climate change, and education, which are typically the top concerns of voters. While other parties take a morally superior stance and distance themselves from the AfD, which appeals to the Green and Social Democratic voter base, the CDU has not yet found a way to effectively handle this negative atmosphere. As a result, they appear vulnerable and indecisive.
The AfD’s increasing influence not only affects Germany, but also has significant consequences for the European Union. If the party continues to gain momentum, it is expected to perform well in the 2024 European Parliament elections.
However, the AfD holds strong skepticism towards the European Union and even displays open hostility towards it. Most recently, the party selected Maximilian Krah as their lead candidate for the upcoming EU elections. Krah strongly believes in transforming Europe into a “fortress” to keep out migrants and advocates for a reduction of 80% of EU bureaucracy. He also holds a pro-Russia stance and strongly criticizes the bloc’s emphasis on climate issues.
Björn Höcke, the leader of the AfD’s parliamentary group in Thuringia, believes that the current EU must be dismantled in order for the true Europe to thrive. A powerful AfD presence in Parliament would likely push the right-wing faction even farther to the extremes and cause disruption in Brussels’ political landscape.