German one-issue parties fight for recognition | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 20.04.2013
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German one-issue parties fight for recognition

There's a myriad of small parties in Germany and many of them only have one core issue. Political researchers don't believe that they can ever be successful, unless they build up a full party program.

They're called German Car Drivers' Party, the Grays, who fight for the rights of senior citizens, Pro Deutschmark, and the Family Party. These political parties appeal to a very specific target group, but they usually fail when elections roll around. Hardly anyone has heard of the groups, let alone voted for them. "If you want to be politically successful in Germany, you need to have a broader, more fundamental approach," democracy researcher Stephan Klecha told DW.

Portrait of Stephan Klecha. (Photo rights: Stephan Klecha)

Democracy researcher Klecha: You need a broad approach to be successful

Elsewhere, however, it is not uncommon for small, one-issue parties to make it into parliament and represent their voters' interests. Israel is a prime example, with small parties often elected to seats in the Knesset, said Klecha.

Even in Great Britain's winner-takes-all election system, there are small parties which are of large importance in certain regions. "Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland is one example. They are elected regularly, though they never accept their mandates," said Klecha. To claim their seats in the British parliament, the members would have to pledge their loyalty to the Queen, which is exactly what the Irish Republican party refuses to do.

The problem for small parties in Germany is the 5 percent threshold. Parties need to receive at least 5 percent of the popular vote to send representatives to the Bundestag, the German parliament's lower house. "In Israel, the threshold was 1 percent for a long time, then 1.5 percent and now 2 percent," Klecha said, adding that the low threshold makes it easier for small Israeli parties to be represented in parliament than for their German counterparts.

New party wants to enter the Bundestag

Members of Germany's anti-euro party AfD (Alternative for Germany) applaud during the first party meeting in Berlin. (Photo: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

Cheering supporters at the AfD's founding convention

Despite all the obstacles, a new party has made it its goal to enter the Bundestag just months after its founding: the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which recently held its first party convention, wants to make it into the Bundestag this September. Their main issue is criticizing the euro common currency. Party officials want Germany to leave the currency union. In an opinion poll for "Focus" magazine released on Saturday, the AfD reached 4 percent, so cracking the 5 percent hurdle doesn't seem impossible.

"The AfD has great potential, because two thirds of the German population reject the euro bailout funds," said Hermann Binkert, head of the Insa polling institute. But 70 percent of Germans still generally approve the euro, according to Klecha. That could become a problem for the AfD.

Long-term success is questionable

The democracy researcher does not believe in a long-term success for the AfD, as "the Alternative for Germany has focused its party program too much on rejecting the euro."

Portrait of Alexander Gauland, one of the founders of the AfD (Alternative for Germany), at the party's first convention in Berlin. (Photo: Marc Tirl/dpa)

AfD founder Gauland: "We're not a one-issue-party"

Alexander Gauland disagreed with that view. The former deputy secretary in the German state of Hesse's premier's office is one of the AfD's founders.

"There are different opinions on the euro policies among the German population," he told DW. "But there's only one opinion represented in the Bundestag. All politicians support the euro bailout, and the alternatives aren't even mentioned."

Gauland also said the AfD is by no means a one-issue party: "The euro question leads into the democracy deficit, which is clearly displayed in this discussion. And we also take a stand on issues like energy politics and integration."

A broad choice of topics is advantageous

Only parties who identify with a broad array of issues stand a chance in Germany, Klecha said. One example for this is the Pirate Party. After its founding convention in 2006, they were the classic case of a one-issue party, focusing on the question of online copyrights. Since then, the Pirates have come up with a full party program that got them into four state parliaments.

One-issue parties can gain attention through the election into a parliament, democracy researcher Klecha said. But it's unrealistic to assume they are there to stay. "That only rarely happens." One party who managed it was the "All-German Bloc of Expellees and Deprived of Rights" that even made it into the German government in the 1950s. But this party, too, only lasted for one legislative period. It had the same problems one-issue-parties face today: "At some point, the issue's dead," Klecha said.

The AfD won't be discouraged.

"We want to be a voice that's heard in the Bundestag," party founder Gauland said. "Once we achieve that, we'll be extremely satisfied."

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