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Opinion

Opinion: Why is the AfD so successful?

The rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is not surprising. If no other party distances itself from Merkel's refugee policy, it may establish itself even further, thinks DW's Christoph Hasselbach.

The popularity of the AfD, Germany's conservative populist party, would wane as the number of incoming refugees dropped off. That was Chancellor Angela Merkel's assessment in March, shortly before three state elections saw major gains for the Alternative for Germany. It became the second-strongest party in Saxony-Anhalt and, though refugee numbers have since slowed, is now second-strongest in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania following Sunday's elections there.

The only surprising thing is that people are surprised. Apparently, Merkel and other political leaders have outright missed the sociological sea change that's come over Germany in the last year. Merkel, her government and most of the parliamentary opposition have for months knowingly surrendered state control over migration without any law being passed to regulate it.

Germans never asked

On a moralistic whim, Merkel has turned Germany into an experiment that will affect generations to come - for the worse. Germans were never asked if they wanted this or were prepared to make the necessary sacrifices, both financial and cultural. There is a difficult-to-pinpoint sense of no longer feeling at home in your own country. In response, many politicians have rejected this feeling of discomfort, or at least advocated to keep it to one's self, but certainly not make a political issue out of it.

For many, the follow up statement to Merkel's "we can do this" refugee crisis mantra is even more annoying: "All obstacles must be overcome." This is in reference to the logistics required for housing refugees, but it could also be understood as overcoming any political opposition to an open refugee policy.

Christoph Hasselbach

DW Editor Christoph Hasselbach

There's an overriding presumption of arrogance regarding that policy and how it's been forced on Germans. Many have remained silent, however, fearful of being labelled right-wing.

"The AfD offers no solutions to problems," Merkel recently repeated. AfD supporters respond: Maybe so, but there wouldn't be problems without Merkel's refugee policy. At least not to this extent.

A majority of Germans don't want to see an AfD government, according to a poll from earlier this year, but many are glad that the AfD exists, as it is the only party speaking out on migration.

Future referendums

Merkel never asked voters. Each election serves as a kind polling of the people, and the biggest referendum of them all will happen next year.

Typically with democratic politics, many potential solutions to questions about migration will be presented in advance of federal elections. Merkel is sticking to her position of open borders and accepting asylum seekers without documentation. The conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) will have to accept that stance if it wants her as party leader. How the Social Democratic Party, the CDU's center-left junior coalition partner, will align itself on the issue remains to be seen. We know, however, the AfD will be arguing for a completely different way forward. Voters will finally be able to make a choice.

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