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German election 2017

Angela Merkel aide says far-right AfD 'profiting from press coverage'

Angela Merkel's Chief of Staff Peter Altmaier slammed the press for giving the right-wing nationalists too big a platform. Ahead of national election, Altmaier said the AfD were just 'rabble-rousers.'

Angela Merkel and Peter Altmaier

Petre Altmaier is one of Angela Merkel's closest allies

Peter Altmaier, chief of staff at the German Chancellery and trusted advisor to Angela Merkel, does not want to talk about the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The right-wing populists are polling at over ten percent of the vote, putting them in a healthy third place between Germany's two major parties, Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) led by Martin Schulz. However, one should note that the margin of error for these polls can be up to plus or minus 3 percent.

But as he was confronted with the AfD's strong numbers in an interview with Spiegel magazine on Monday, Altmaier threw the numbers back at his interviewer. Echoing an accusation lobbed at the press over the election of Donald Trump in the US, the CDU politician insisted that it was all the media attention that had made the AfD relevant in the first place.

"These are just a few rabble-rousers," said Altmaier, "who profit from the all the reporting on them."

'The center is strong'

When pressed on the fact that with just six days to go until Germany's national elections many Germans are justifiably wondering what it will mean for their country to have a far-right party in the Bundestag for the first time in decades, Altmaier called it "nonsense. The fringes in Germany are weak, the center is strong."

Altmaier may have a point. With the numbers suggesting that Chancellor Merkel is a shoo-in for a fourth term – even if that means in a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and/or the Green party – maybe the CDU's best strategy is to shrink the stage on which the AfD parades.

But Spiegel was not letting Altmaier "turn a blind eye," as the German weekly put it, given that the far-right has made a rapid ascent into mainstream politics within just a couple years.

"This isn't like in the past, with the youth wing of the SPD protesting Helmut Kohl. This is hate speech. Why don't you want to see it?"

Altmaier responded with a reality check – "Germany is one of the few countries in the West with a stable multi-party system," – and reiterated the fact that all of the country's other parties have sworn not to form a coalition government with the AfD.

Altmaier: The voting age stays where it is

Although the majority of the interview touched upon the dilemma of whether or not the AfD was garnering too much attention, Altmaier also touched on diverse campaign topics like digital infrastructure, tax reform and climate protection. When asked if he agreed with SPD candidate Martin Schulz's suggestion that the voting age be lowered to 16, Altmaier was almost as incensed as he was about talk about the far-right.

"I see no party that wants to lower the legal age of majority to 16. Therefore lowering the voting age makes no sense to me. That some towns allow 16-year-olds to vote in municipal elections is already chilling."

As it stands on Monday, the CDU is almost assured another go at governing, with 37 percent of the vote to the SPD's 20. At the same time, the AfD is almost assured of getting a number of seats in the Bundestag, potentially becoming the largest opposition party in parliament as the FDP and Greens waver a few points below the populists.

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