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Germany

'AfD challenges democratic values'

The AfD plays on voters' fears, and this is how it is winning votes, says Alexander Häusler, a researcher of right-wing extremism. This is confirmed by a draft of a new party manifesto.

Deutsche Welle : A party writes its manifesto and then tries to win voters' support. With the AfD it seems to work the other way around. First they seek support at the ballot box, and then they write their manifesto. How does that work?

Alexander Häusler: That is a typical characteristic of right-wing populist parties. Their primary intention is not to make factual demands, but to play on people's fears. In the beginning it was the euro crisis; now the refugee crisis is the central theme they're playing with politically, in order to translate it into votes. This is exactly what the AfD is doing, and this is also why it's having such difficulty in presenting a manifesto. The current argument within the party about the manifesto demonstrates that there are no coherent concepts there at all.

The 45-page draft of the AfD's party manifesto, which has now been made public, is pretty monothematic, that is to say anti-Islamic. It says, among other things, that the "construction and running of mosques" should be prohibited. Yet our constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Are there already fantasies about banning it?

I'm sure there aren't. The AfD - unlike the right-wing extremist and clearly unconstitutional NPD - is more in the tradition of other right-wing populist parties like the Confederation of Free Citizens (BFB), or the Schill Party.

But if we look at the draft manifesto, we see that it challenges the core democratic values of the Federal Republic. We find there, for example, the demand that we renounce modern citizenship law, meaning a return to the principle of descent. We also find a clear renunciation of the process of European integration, which goes hand in hand with the idea of national militarization. We also see dangerous demands concerning press freedom in this manifesto. These are things that clearly challenge the democratic achievements Germany has spent decades working towards.

Picture of German researcher Alexander Häusler

Alexander Häusler

The draft comes from the right-wing conservative wing of the party. Is the purely anti-Islamic tenor of this party grouping able to secure a majority in the AfD?

We have already seen similar demands in the draft that was originally published. However, the demand for a ban on the construction of mosques is a further intensification and expression of the extreme right wing within the party, which does keep getting stronger and has just been given a lot of encouragement in the recent state elections - especially if you look at Saxony-Anhalt (where it received 24.3 percent to become the second-biggest party - ed.).

We can actually clearly establish that, since the departure of the former party leader [Bernd] Lucke, the AfD has steered further and further to the right. AfD membership numbers, especially in the eastern German states, have gone up - which means that the eastern German states and their party leaders are also gaining more and more influence, and they are moving more and more clearly towards the extreme right.

The manifesto is to be discussed and agreed at the end of April at the party conference in Stuttgart. Do AfD voters expect to be offered more in terms of policies - on economic and education issues, for example - or is the slogan "Islam does not belong to Germany" enough for them?

There will certainly be a big argument about which direction the party is to take. In the AfD there is clearly a radically free-market wing, which wrote classic demands - the abolition of unemployment benefits, for example - into the manifesto. Now we see that the current draft has been smoothed out. Passages have been deleted, some in contravention of the vote by the party's own membership, such as the end to no-fault divorce.

These and other demands, which the members actually wanted, were deleted again in the hope that this way the party would not appear too radical or lacking in social solidarity. That means we can predict seeds of conflict at this party conference, and as yet it's not possible to say which faction within the AfD will ultimately prevail.

The AfD has now made it into eight state parliaments. Is Germany turning into a country that will always have a large number of potential right-wing-populist voters, as in France, the Netherlands or Austria?

It's not possible to tell at the moment. At the moment the AfD can only hurt itself - through its conflicts and the power struggle within the party. Before the national election, we have another state election (in May 2017 - ed.), in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous German state.That will decide whether the AfD can really win votes in a very multicultural state as well. That could more or less become a yardstick for measuring whether the AfD will really succeed in establishing itself in the longer term in Germany's political party landscape as a party to the right of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.

Alexander Häusler is a social scientist at the University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf and an expert on right-wing extremism and neo-Nazism.

The interview was conducted by Volker Wagener.

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