Graphic by Daniel Rey

Has The Wave of Populism Invaded Germany?

The growing distrust in the European Union is not about to end.

Feb 26, 2017

On Sept. 24, German citizens will decide the future of Germany: they will be called to the polls for a general election, the outcome of which will determine the replacement of current Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The latest surveys suggest that Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union still has a strong base of support among Germans. Pollytix, a strategic research company based in Germany, found that CDU leads with 34 percent. So will there be a break from Merkel’s decade-long command? If yes, who will take the responsibility of leading Europe’s first power in such a delicate moment for the future of the European Union?
Following Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, many countries in Europe have experienced a rise in support for anti-immigration and Eurosceptic parties. Germany, too, is dealing with the exponential growth of the Alternative für Deutschland party, which shares an ideology with far-right propaganda and has been tied to neo-fascist groups by local newspapers. In the latest Berlin state elections the AfD obtained 14.2 percent of the vote, just three percentage points behind the CDU. In the polling done by Pollytix, the AfD are the third largest party in Germany, looking for confirmation in the upcoming federal ballot. Many establishment politicians are struck by the breadth of voters that the party is convincing. AfD voters include many young people and the party has its own youth division called Junge Alternative — Young Alternative — enabling it to capture sentiments of rebellion against the current mainstream politics.
Although born as a center-right party, in opposition to the bailout of Greece, AfD has now completed its transformation into the point of reference for right-wing dissent. The new leader is Frauke Petry, who bases the campaign around three main points: the complete shutdown of illegal immigration into Germany, the dissolution of the Euro and the instauration of patriotism as a key value in every citizen. In certain aspects, the movement also agrees with the left-wing party Die Linke, which advocates for the end of free trade treaties, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
It is understandable why youngsters are attracted by such ideologies as those that the AfD propose. They are afraid for their future as they see a European Union at the verge of collapse. Another key country will have elections this year which could provoke another referendum on membership of the European Union. Marine Le Pen, the leader of Front National in France, is rapidly gaining support and could become a serious contender for the French Presidency. All of these factors induce young Germans to look for concise and direct answers to their problems, and AfD effectively does just that.
All being said, however, the chances to see AfD rule the country are still very low. An option for Petry’s movement would be to find common ground with the left-wing Die Linke and construct an alliance against the moderate powers. However, based on their conflicting views on issues such as immigration, this remains a fugacious dream. The race for chancellor will therefore be between Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democratic Party, guided by the former European Parliament President Martin Schulz. Both CDU and SPD poll at 33 percent, and share ideas on the need to stay in the European Union and work together to solve the immigration problem. There wouldn’t be a radical change in ideology if Schulz prevails.
Certainly the true wave of populism has already hit Germany and awaits confirmation in these elections. If AfD are able to conquer the third spot in nationwide preferences it would symbolize an explicitly growing nuisance in the country.
The growing distrust in the European Union is not about to end. Uncontrolled migration, threats of terrorism and large-scale unemployment are serious problems that people are feeling first-hand. The unheard voice of citizens led to the creation of parties such as AfD, which were able to channel their anger into concrete proposals and campaign slogans. In fact, these parties are only starting to emerge and we will have to deal with them for many more years to come, as they become a reality of a radically changed political spectrum. The confirmation of AfD as third party in Germany can only create a booming effect to populist parties all over Europe, which will continue to rise in their respective countries.
Andrea Arletti is a Staff Writer. Email him at
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