Alternative for Germany is holding its annual convention in Hanover. The faction that hung on to the initials after the AfD's stunning split this summer intends to venture into the future united.
This is the first Alternative for Germany (AfD) convention without the party's founder, Bernd Lucke, who was forced out in a power struggle this summer. The Euroskeptic Lucke took about 20 percent of the AfD's members with him after their faction decided that the party had shifted too far to the right. During the dust-up, the AfD's popularity dropped to under 5 percent - below the threshold required to win seats in Germany's parliament.
Then came the refugees, and, from week to week, it became obvious that AfD benefited from the backlash. AfD now enjoys about 10 percent nationwide support in opinion polls - and 18 percent in eastern Germany. Alexander Gauland, the deputy head of AfD, says his party is a haven for everyone who does not agree with Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy.
At the AfD convention in Hanover Saturday, party co-leader Frauke Petry called for Merkel's resignation and was given a standing ovation. Petry claimed that Merkel had failed in her duties as chancellor when she said Germany no longer had the situation with refugees under control.
No apparent platform
Jörg Meuthen, the AfD's other co-leader, does not feel that his party is capitalizing on the refugee crisis. He thinks that the AfD survived its own crisis in the summer because of the unified impression it had made in public. Also, he claims that AfD is not just interested in refugee policy - he does not want it to be perceived as a single-issue party - but all signs show that it has benefited from anti-refugee rhetoric.
Meuthen claims his party is alive and kicking. The AfD has set the goal of attaining double-digit results in upcoming state elections in the spring, although the lack of a policy platform will only be addressed early in 2016.
At the convention on Saturday, a vast majority of the delegates passed a resolution on refugees. The AfD has called for the closure of national borders if the exterior EU frontiers do not keep refugees out. The party also wants all rejected asylum applicants to be immediately deported. These are not revolutionary demands: Merkel's Christian Democrats and their Bavarian brethren in the Christian Social Union have been discussing such measures for a while now. Some AfD members have even been heard to say that the party's ideas do not differ much from those of the CSU's, and others that Merkel's approach to Europe is fine.
Pressure from the right
In his opening speech, Jörg Meuthen said the party was navigating calm waters. The statement seemed inaccurate, though the mood in the convention hall was good. There is still the risk of conflict on how far the party will go to the right. AfD members have expressed ultranationalist sentiments in public, after all.
Before the party convention, AfD received media attention for a marginal subject: A hotel in Hanover had canceled reservations for party members. Even finding a venue for the convention had proved difficult. Meuthen accused the hotel and local venues of fighting the party and showing a "pitiful understanding of discourse and competition."
The roughly 500 delegates will convene until Sunday. Critics, too, plan to convene - outside, at a large anti-AfD demonstration. Security measures have been stepped up; after all, it has only been a week since the international soccer match in the city was canceled because authorities feared a terrorist attack.
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