Opinion: Brexit, AfD - ′populism′ makes for poor politics | Opinion | DW | 10.07.2016
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Opinion: Brexit, AfD - 'populism' makes for poor politics

Leaders of Britain's "Leave" campaign quit their jobs after achieving their Brexit; Alternative for Germany is imploding. The EU's so-called populists are making fools of themselves, DW's Kay-Alexander Scholz writes.

Events in Great Britain have shown that populists such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are little more than badly behaved children who take away everyone's toys and thrash them around until everything is broken. After that, they move on to the next playground and wreck that, too.

On the German front, the strife between Frauke Petry and Jörg Meuthen, the leaders of Alternative for Germany (AfD), reveals that populists are mostly egomaniacs with little capacity for teamwork. They just want to prove that they are right and have the last word.

But in fact, politicians should get it into their heads that they can fight hard, yet still play fair. This is not the Netflix series "House of Cards," even if that seems like a tempting idea to some.

Ability to compromise

Scholz Kay-Alexander Kommentarbild App

DW's Kay-Alexander Scholz

Should such people really be the ones who will soon be debating the future of social welfare or EU unity, with their inability to make compromises and unwillingness to take responsibility for any decision that they do not support 100 percent? Will they be capable of giving consideration to the potential long-term consequences of their decisions?

Even Chancellor Angela Merkel recently made an error of this nature when she opened Germany's borders to refugees without seeking approval from the leaders of other EU countries. The result has been testy relations with fellow EU members in the east. But Merkel is capable of learning from her mistakes. After the Brexit referendum, she quickly sought dialogue with Polish leaders and was met in Warsaw with the smiles that had been missing over the previous months.

What kind of politicians do we need in the future? Pragmatic politicians that are capable of compromise are often clever, but they do not reach the people who need to be wooed at an emotional level. These then turn to populist and radical figures, as is all too clearly shown by the European Union's crisis and the rise of nationalist parties that oppose the bloc.

Strong leaders - a two-edged sword

And what kind of leaders do populists and radicals prefer? As could be expected, they tend to go for strong ones who lay down the law, even if this can sometimes seem out of keeping with the times. But if a party has too many of these figures, internal power struggles can develop, as is currently happening with the AfD.

So a mixture would seem to be ideal. The best leaders govern through compromise and genuine authority: They regularly consult polls and adapt policies to meet the people's wishes - and are thus "populist" in the best sense of the word. But such leaders also underscore their authority by convincing people that the alternatives are not viable. And they are completely unchallenged within their own parties, meaning that there is really no alternative to them, as they are irreplaceable for the time being. Actually, when you think about it, Germany is extremely well served by its current chancellor.

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