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Germany's far-right AfD profits from climate change spat

June 1, 2023

The far-right Alternative for Germany is flying high, reaching 18% support in two nationwide polls. The party has sharpened its profile by attacking the Green Party's climate policies.

AfD protest against 'mad' government policies
Disenchantment with Germany's center-left coalition government is rising — and the far-right AfD knows how to mobilize votersImage: Fabian Sommer/dpa/picture alliance

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been in an uproar for weeks. According to the opposition party, the policies of the federal government are not only failing, but a threat to Germany's peace and prosperity.

The far-right party positions itself for confrontation in almost all areas of policy: When it comes to the war in Ukraine, the AfD has called for peace negotiations instead of weapons deliveries. On migration, the party has advocated tightening the borders instead of recruiting skilled workers.

But above all, the far-right populist party has portrayed itself as an aggressive opponent of the government's energy and climate policy.

The strategy appears to have reaped rewards in recent months. The AfD polled at 18% in two polls published by INSA and Infraset Dimap this week, several points clear of the Greens.

Alice Weidel giving a statement before the parliamentary group meeting in the German Bundestag
AfD co-chair Alice Weidel has lashed out at the Greens with populist rhetoricImage: Chris Emil Janßen/IMAGO

Germany's current government is a coalition between the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) and environmentalist Greens. The AfD's parliamentary group leader in the German federal Bundestag, Alice Weidel, has argued the government's plans would "impoverish" the people. The plans to convert home heating systems to renewable energy are, for Weidel, no less than a "heating massacre."

Earlier this year, she told a press conference: "People who cannot afford it will have to sell their houses."

For AfD, emotions more important than facts

The AfD's rejection of climate protection measures surpasses those of many other European far-right parties, said Christoph Richter from the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society, based in the eastern German city of Jena. "The party doubts fundamental scientific findings about human-caused climate change, and considers the corresponding climate protection measures to be pointless," he said.

The Institute for Democracy and Civil Society is currently researching how right-wing populists and extremists in Europe and the United States are handling the ecological crisis.

The AfD's own climate protection policy is straightforward: Yes to fossil fuels and nuclear energy, no to wind power. Richter pointed out that the AfD is trying to capitalize on emotions.

"With the AfD, we see that they are targeting the areas in which the population holds the most reservations and fears," Richter said. "For example, they have latched onto regional anti-wind energy campaigns."

The Greens have become the new prime target for the AfD. Their plan for a climate-friendly and diverse Germany is anathema to the right-wing party, which considers it a blueprint for the country's demise.

The AfD have targeted the Greens, especially Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, with allegations and insults on social media. And the strategy seems to be working for them: Opinion polls show the AfD is the strongest party in three eastern German federal states, which used to be part of East Germany before reunification, that are due to hold regional elections next year.

Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck on stage, smiling at each other
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Green Party have borne the brunt of the AfD's attacksImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

The voter bases of the Greens and the AfD seem to be poles apart in many areas of policy. That is observed by German pollsters infratest dimap, whose surveys show that two-thirds of Greens supporters believe climate protection measures are happening too slowly, while more than half of AfD voters feel they are moving too fast.

Richter sees the European right-wing parties as united in their rejection of climate protection measures. "They are united by their interest in maintaining the current uneven distribution between the industrialized countries and other countries, especially the Global South, because the European industrialized countries benefit from this disparity," he said.

Political opponents as bogeymen

Since it was founded, the AfD has targeted a variety of parties, portraying them as bogeymen. When the AfD launched in 2013 its favorite opponent was the neoliberal Free Democrats and their policies on European debt. When the FDP was ousted from the Bundestag after failing to reach the 5% threshold in the 2013 election, the AfD rejoiced uninhibitedly.

Then the party set its sights on the Christian Democrats (CDU) and their leader, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her refugee policies energized the AfD and the party capitalized on them, gaining significant support and election success, especially in the eastern German states. Merkel is gone, and now the AfD has focused on a new target: The Greens.

The fact that the far-right party appears to be succeeding with its strategy also has a lot to do with the weakness of the other parties, Richter observed.

"The relevant factor of the success of the AfD campaigns is that their narrative is also being picked up by mainstream society," he said. "This could ultimately damage the established parties and climate protection efforts."

This article was originally written in German.

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