In many ways, the “AfD phenomenon” is increasingly likened to that of the “Trump Phenomenon” in the United States. Lacking a charismatic leader in the mold of Donald Trump, the AfD has nonetheless electrified voters with its hard-line on immigration and its persona as the movement opposed to the political “establishment.” According to Martin Klingst of Die Zeit, “The United Nations Human Rights Council says that there are already about 200,000 refugees waiting in Libya to cross the Mediterranean to Italy again and that more and more refugees will choose this dangerous route once the Balkan route is closed.”
By John Gizzi | March 14, 2016
Less than two months after “Time” Magazine hailed Angela Merkel as its “Person of the Year” for her dealing with the Greek debt crisis and the tidal wave of immigrants flooding her country, the German chancellor is now a politician increasingly seen in turmoil.
Moreover, and perhaps most dramatically, Merkel is a politician who may soon have to follow in the footsteps of her American counterparts and grapple with Germany’s own “Donald Trump Phenomenon.”
Merkel’s desperate situation inarguably stems from growing animosity of Germans to her “open door” policy of admitting refugees from Syria and Africa.
Her spiraling political capital is coupled with a development hitherto unseen in modern Germany: the quicksilver rise of a new political party, one that wants to reintroduce border controls and inaugurate a queue based on points to determine which immigrants get in and which do not.
On Sunday, March 13, barely three years after it was founded, the Alternative fur Deutschland (or Alternative for Germany) party scored its biggest-ever triumph at the polls.
With some votes still to be counted, the AfD racked up 23.5% of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt and will thus have a record number of seats in any state parliament. Coupled with its double-figure showings of 12.5% in elections for the state parliaments of Baden Würtemberg (headquarters of both Porsche and Mercedes Benz) and 11.5% in Rheinland-Palatinate, the AfD is now a force to be reckoned with.
Recalling the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia), the AfD’s hard-line on immigrants proved particularly resonant in Saxony-Anhalt, a state in the former East Germany that is especially alarmed by what is seen as an invasion of Europe by Muslim refugees.
“…[L]ocals complain of sports lessons being cancelled because school gyms are full of refugees, of newcomers jumping the housing queue, and of Middle Eastern men molesting local girls,” reported the Financial Times on February 24.
In many ways, the “AfD phenomenon” is increasingly likened to that of the “Trump Phenomenon” in the United States. Lacking a charismatic leader in the mold of Donald Trump, the AfD has nonetheless electrified voters with its hard-line on immigration and its persona as the movement opposed to the political “establishment.”
“Yes, I do see an analogy between the AfD and Donald Trump,” journalist Martin Klingst of the venerable German publication Die Zeit, told this reporter, “The Alternative is also anti-elite, anti-establishment, and anti-traditional parties. They call the media liars, leftists, and not trustworthy. They see themselves as the voice of ‘the silent majority’ and like to say ‘we are the people.’ They also say they will give ‘the angry’ and ‘the disappointed’ and ‘the neglected’ a voice.
“And, as is the case with Trump, it is very hard to argue with them.”
The rise of the Alternative in three short years is nothing short of high political drama. Formed in 2013 primarily as a Eurosceptic vehicle, the AfD just missed the 5% threshold required for Bundestag (parliament) seats in the national elections that year.
A year later, however, the AfD roared into the European parliament by capturing 7% of the vote. In 2014-15, still running primarily as a Euroskeptic vehicle – captured numerous seats in five regional parliaments.
Between then and the state elections this year, the Alternative shifted its platform and persona from one of Euroskepticism and opposition to debt to that of a hard-line movement on immigration. Coupled with the influx of refugees and the Merkel government’s “open door” policy, the Alternative found fertile ground for its new platform: a return to the national borders and strong hints it would withdraw from the Schengen system (right of free passage through 26 European countries that have abolished passports and border controls).
Pundits and pols consider the election last summer of entrepreneur Frauke Petry as party leader the defining moment in the Alternative shift from Euroskeptic to immigration hard-liner vehicle. Like Donald Trump, Petry runs her own business—PURinvent, a manufacturer of polyurethane tire fill products.
In much the same way as Trump, Petry makes major news by discarding political correctness and sometimes voicing the outrageous. In January of this year, she suggested that border police should shoot migrants illegally entering Germany, if they had to.
This shift in message led to five of the Alternative’s seven Members of the European Parliament (MEP) leaving the party and its two founding members, Bernd Lucke and Olaf Henkel, forming a new party known as “the Alliance for Progress and Renewal” (the latter meaning the dawn of a new era).
Because of the controversy that surrounds them, notes pundit Klingst, “the Alternative for now won’t form any governments or be part of any [state] government. All other parties have said they will not form a coalition with them.
“It’s an absolute ‘no-no’—for the time being.”
The state elections and the rise of the Alternative aside, Angela Merkel and her ruling CDU-CSU coalition is in no political danger in the foreseeable future. With national elections more than a year away, the lady known universally as “Iron Angie” or “Mutti” (Mommy) has no rivals for power within her party nor any heir apparent should she step down.
“And the number of refugees has dramatically declined in the last weeks and days, mainly due to the closure of Balkan borders,” observed Klingst, “But we don’t yet know what happens next. The United Nations Human Rights Council says that there are already about 200,000 refugees waiting in Libya to cross the Mediterranean to Italy again and that more and more refugees will choose this dangerous route once the Balkan route is closed.”