In the end, the AfD's previously advertised fall offensive in Berlin turned out to be rather lackluster. That is surprising considering the refugee crisis offers a lot of ammunition for right wing populists.
What exactly will become of the party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is an open question on the German political landscape. The party cannot seem to create a more distinct profile for itself.
The AfD is thought to be Germany's version of European right wing populism, akin to France's National Front, or Britain's UKIP. However, the German party lacks unity. Early this summer, party founder Bernd Lucke was toppled – his reaction was to found the new Alfa party, which is currently attempting to build a nationwide base. In recent elections AfD garnered approval ratings below the five percent hurdle required to enter parliament. It has yet to recover from those low ratings. That, despite the fact that the European refugee crisis should be putting wind in its sails: as that subject is one that, more than any, populist parties like to polemicize about.
AfD wants to "reactivate" itself
During the first press conference after the party's split, AfD's new president, Frauke Petry, announced an upcoming "fall offensive." Yet the drums and whistles that one would associate with such an offensive were not to be heard. Still: a nationwide information campaign is intended to internally "reactivate" the party; a petition drive against government policy towards Greece which was started before the summer break is to be extended, and the next party conference has been planned for this November.
AfD also attempted to reactivate itself in the media with an asylum policy strategy paper that it presented in Berlin. The paper contains half a dozen proposals on how to "get a grip on the asylum mess" - and it contains no radical or sensational ideas.
Asylum policy: bland proposals
AfD's fundamental call for the return of controls along Germany's borders is also featured in a position paper that leaders from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) presented to the press on Monday. Another proposal; namely, that the list of "safe countries of origin" be expanded, has also been discussed in German political debates. In fact, Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has proposed a type of automatism for states whose citizens are regularly denied asylum in Germany. In Brussels, too, there is talk of expanding such a list to include a number of African countries.
Fast track asylum procedures are also being discussed, although the AfD goes beyond existing proposals with their so-called "48 hour accelerated procedure." However, there are currently not enough agents in the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees for such a plan to work. The demand to supply material rather than financial aid to refugees was the result of coalition committee meetings held on Sunday; hence, it is also not unique to the AfD. A proposal to withhold the cost of refugee housing from Germany's EU membership dues seems quite difficult to achieve from a legal standpoint. The AfD also proposes changing asylum law and is keen to discuss a new immigration law, but many members of the CDU/CSU want to avoid this, as they fear even larger numbers of immigrants may be the result.
At the same time, there was somewhat pointed rhetoric from the chairman of the Brandenburg AfD, Alexander Gauland. Known for such statements, he said that we were experiencing a new "Migration Period." Gauland went on to warn that Germany could not integrate one million refugees, and asked: "How many refugees can a society bear?" Yet, even this question is being discussed by most other parties in Germany at the moment, albeit not very boisterously.
Difficult balancing act
Such relatively moderate tones from the AfD, and so little agitation: this is no doubt due to the fact that the party leadership knows that a veer to the right could mean losing even more voter support. On the other hand, the refugee crisis is the dominant political topic of the day and could provide ample opportunities for the party to capitalize on. But, party leaders view the prospect as too risky right now. One could see that uncertainty on Petry herself during her rather unconvincing press conference performance.
Interestingly, the head of the AfD in Thuringia, Bernd Höcke, popped up at the press conference, but did not take a seat at the podium. He is well known for radical statements, but isn't saying much at the moment. Höcke could most readily be categorized along the lines of the French National Front. This weekend, their party leader, Marine Le Pen, spoke of a "flood of immigrant, and the advancing decay of national identity."