DW takes a look at the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party - the newest force in German politics. What is it, where did it come from and what role will it play in the 2017 election? Here are all the answers.
The AfD has become first and foremost an anti-immigration party. The party's series of successes in local elections last year has been put largely down to public anger over Angela Merkel's welcoming policy toward refugees, particularly from Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, which has seen more than 1.5 million migrants arrive in Germany since 2015.
The AfD wants to seal the EU's borders, institute rigorous identity checks along Germany's national borders and set up holding camps abroad to prevent migrants from leaving for Germany in the first place. The party wants to immediately deport anyone whose application for political asylum is rejected and to encourage foreigners financially to return to their home countries. The AfD believes the few migrants who are allowed to remain have a duty to fully integrate into German society. The party emphasizes the primacy of the German language, traditional German culture and rejects the idea that Islam is part of German society.
When it was formed in 2013, the AfD's main thrust was its opposition to bail-outs of indebted European Union member states, like Greece. One of its initial spokespeople, Bernd Lucke, described it as a "new type of party that was neither right- nor left-wing." In the 2013 German national election, the AfD failed to clear the five-percent hurdle needed for representation in the country's parliament, but it polled 7.1 percent of the vote in the 2014 European Parliamentary election. That was the party's first major electoral success. The party rejects the idea of a "United States of Europe," wants to see EU powers devolved back to the national level, and favors scrapping the euro as a currency.
Despite its putatively non-partisan origins, the AfD has developed into a party well to the right of the mainstream conservative CDU-CSU of Chancellor Angela Merkel. It appeals both to the right-wing extremist fringe and to people dissatisfied with the status quo who may or may not have previously participated in the electoral system. Some experts have talked of a "radicalization of the center," and the party is particularly popular in formerly Communist eastern Germany. Studies have suggested that the AfD has siphoned off supporters from all of Germany's established mainstream parties, and it currently boasts more than 23,000 members. Many commentators see the rise of the party as part of the same populist international trend that saw voters in the UK approve the Brexit and Americans elect Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Changing the political landscape
In surveys in which potential voters are asked "Who would you vote for, if the election were held next Sunday," the AfD polls between 8 and 15 percent, although against the backdrop of polling errors in the US and the UK, many political observers think that the party's electoral support could be significantly higher. That has made it more difficult for the other political parties to form parliamentary majorities. The result could be a continuation of the current CDU-SPD grand coalition or a previously untried national alliance such as the conservatives and the Greens. None of the established parties are willing to cooperate with the AfD. If the polls are correct, the right-wing populists are very likely to be the largest opposition force in the next Bundestag.
Already a local player
The AfD is already a power to be reckoned with at the regional political level, with the party being represented in the parliaments of 10 out of 16 of Germany's federal states, including all of the eastern ones. The AfD took 24.3 percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt in March 2016, necessitating a CDU-SPD-Green coalition, and 20.8 percent in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania last September, outperforming the CDU in Merkel's home state. Even in very left-wing Berlin, the AfD got 14.2 percent of the vote last year. It polled 6.2 percent in the state election in Saarland in April. The party is expected to enter the local parliaments of Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia ahead of the national election on September 24, 2017.
A new home for neo-Nazis?
The official AfD platform says that the party supports direct democracy, separation of state powers and the rule of law and order, but throughout its short history, critics have accused individual members of promoting neo-Nazi ideas and using neo-Nazi language. Detractors say that the party follows a strategy of targeted breaks with anti-Nazi taboos in an attempt to appeal to right-wing extremists. Local leader Björn Höcke, for instance, held a speech in Dresden, which many considered to have Nazi overtones and content. He may or may not be excluded from the party.
The rise of the AfD has, in any case, coincided with the decline of far-right parties like the NPD into virtual insignificance. Nonetheless, the Interior Ministry has said it doesn't regard the AfD as unconstitutional, and the party is not kept under constant surveillance by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
The AfD also sees itself as a defender of the traditional nuclear family model. It is anti-abortion and hostile to alternative lifestyles. It favors a series of measures that would increase state financial support for traditional families and is, in this respect, not fiscally conservative. Two of its most prominent and controversial figures, party spokeswoman Frauke Petry and Höcke, themselves have four children.
Fights for control
In its four years of existence, the AfD has seen more than its fair share of battles for the top spots in the hierarchy. Original founders who advocated a relatively moderate orientation have been marginalized or pushed out of the party entirely.
One of the key moments in determining the course of the party was a convention on July 4, 2015 at which Frauke Petry and Jörg Meuthen were elected spokespeople over the euro-skeptical Lucke. But there is constant tension between pragmatic and hardcore ideological wings of the party. Petry herself suffered a major setback at the party's conference in late April, when the hardliners pushed through their strategy for the election.
Uneasy relationship with Pegida
The AfD is often conflated in the public mind with the anti-immigration Pegida movement, which holds regular demonstrations in the eastern city of Dresden, and there's no doubt that there is considerable overlap in terms of political attitudes and supporters. But Pediga is a citizens' initiative, not a party, and the AfD has always viewed it with unease. In May 2016, the party's national executive decided that AfD members should not appear at Pegida events and vice versa - a position that has been criticized by members of the party's right wing, including Höcke.
No love lost for the press
Like Donald Trump or Brexit leader Nigel Farage, the leaders of the AfD display a conspicuous hostility toward the mainstream media. The AfD favors doing away with the licensing fees that underwrite Germany's public television and radio stations, and journalists are regularly excluded from party events. Reporters who call the press hotline at the party's headquarters to request information often get a pre-recorded message telling them to "try again later."