Germany′s Euroskeptic AfD ′old-fashioned conservatives, but no extremists′ | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.09.2014
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Germany's Euroskeptic AfD 'old-fashioned conservatives, but no extremists'

In recent state elections, Germany's AfD party shocked the main parties by garnering around or more than 10 percent of the vote. Political analyst Jürgen Falter tells DW the euroskeptics are harmless, but here to stay.

DW: The head of the Christian Democrats' (CDU) Bavarian sister party, the CSU, Horst Seehofer, has admitted that the Christian Democrats will most probably have to deal with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party long-term. Is the AfD's success a headache mainly for Germany's conservatives?

Jürgen Falter: The AfD places itself right of the CDU and CSU, and it was always one of the main aims of those two parties that there should never be a democratic party right of the CDU and CSU.

At the local and regional level we will come to a situation where the CDU or the CSU will be thinking about a coalition with the AfD if necessary.

The AfD has repeatedly been put in the euroskeptic and even the right-wing camp. But in the latest three German state elections, they garnered votes from across the political spectrum, how do you explain that?

It has to do with the image the party's been given by its competitors, also by the media. Of course, in Germany, it's very easy to put a party in the right-wing corner, but if you look at the manifesto and the leading figures, they are not extremist or right-wing radicals.

Professor Jürgen Falter

Professor Jürgen Falter specializes in voting trends and behavior

They are conservative, they are economic liberals, and they are euroskeptics.

Is the AfDs success mainly down to dissatisfaction with the established parties?

Yes, it's a kind of protest vote. About two-thirds of those who voted on Sunday [in Brandenburg and Thuringia - ed.] were highly discontented with the established parties.

But one-third of those who voted liked the program and the political leaders. It's a mixed picture.

What are the topics that the AfD has managed to capitalize on? And are these topics of particular interest to Eastern Germany?

Yes, they were able to address some of the problems that are more or less typical for Eastern Germany, like criminal incidents at the borders with the Czech Republic and Poland, and street violence and robberies.

Given what you've just said, does the AfD have universal appeal in Germany?

I think so. It won't get 10 or 12 percent everywhere perhaps, but they could go above the 5-percent hurdle with other topics like euroskepticism, for those people frightened by the eurozone crisis policies of our federal government and the European Central Bank.

How does the AfD compare to other increasingly popular parties on the right, like the Front National and the UK Independence party (UKIP) in the UK? Does it compare?

Not really, its not as far to the right as the Front National in France for example, it's not as nationalist as UKIP, and it's not as xenophobic as Austria's FPÖ party.

The AfD is more like the Swiss People's party (SVP), which is patriotic, very conservative, very Swiss-oriented and isolationist.

Is it similar in any way to the Tea Party movement in the US?

No, not at all, the AfD is not fundamentalist. You could compare it to the CDU 30 years ago, which means family values and opposition to gay marriage and adoption by gay couples. So, they're really conservative in an old-fashioned way, but the Tea Party is much more radical.

So, you don't see the AfD as xenophobic?

No, its leaders are beyond any doubt not xenophobic, like [Olaf] Henkel, who has the mandate in the European parliament. He was one of our business leaders in Germany - they don't tend to be xenophobic.

It might be different in the rank-and-file and it varies from region to region, but they don't stand for the party as a whole.

You analyze voters' behavior - how do German voters compare in Europe? Are there pan-European trends, are German voters special in any way?

Long-term affiliation with a party - a psychological membership in a way - has withered away in Germany, just like in other countries. There is more volatility, more switches from election to election, surges and declines of parties and lower turnout.

But Germany has been a bit late to the party, we're in the middle of this development, which was faster in other countries.

So, in your view, what's the AfD about, in a nutshell, and should anyone be worried about it?

It's a socially conservative party with radical liberal economic views. They don't yet know about their foreign policy course, we don't know about that yet.

No, I don't believe there is any need to be worried.

Could they go the way of the Pirate Party in Germany, which had its moment, but has seemingly sunk without trace?

I don't think so. The AfD is better organized, they have more professional, or let's say serious, politicians, so I don't think they will disappear within one legislative period like the Pirates.

Jürgen Falter is a professor of political science at the University of Mainz. He is an expert in electoral trends and voting behavior in Germany and Europe. He also focuses on political extremism and xenophobia in western countries.

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