You are on page 1of 9

Policy Brief

Europe Program

Vol. 2, No. 1

February 2015
Policy Challenge: The Alternative
for Germany (AfD) is a rightwing populist party that should
not be underestimated. It has
nationwide appeal, including
to middle class voters with
higher income and education
levels. Its program goes beyond
opposing the euro to being
for the nation, against the
political establishment. It has
right-extremist elements but is
supported by up to 30 percent of
voters. Its reorganization around
a dominant leader will likely
prevent it from self-destructing
as others like it have before.
Policy Recommendations:
Moderate parties can best
reclaim voters from the AfD
by campaigning as guardians
of the German interest with
tighter asylum law and a hard
line on Euro-area issues. This
can strengthen the nationalist
tone in domestic debates in the
short term, and have negative
consequences for asylum
seekers in Germany and the
eurozone. This is the dilemma
moderate parties face with
right-wing populists. In the
run-up to the 2017 national
elections, however, these may
be unavoidable trade-offs to
counter the AfDs rise, which is
necessary for Germany to be the
motor of European integration.
1744 R Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
T 1 202 683 2650
F 1 202 265 1662
E info@gmfus.org

Countering Right-Wing Populism:


The AfD and the Strategic Dilemma
for Germanys Moderate Parties
by Timo Lochocki

A Textbook Right-Wing
Populist Party
In the last two years, the Alternative
for Germany (AfD) has erupted on
the political scene. Founded in 2012,
it has had a remarkable increase in
voter support in recent months. It
attracted a little less than 5 percent
of the votes in the state elections in
Hesse and in the federal election in
September 2013, i.e. just below the
threshold for parliamentary representation. In the May 2014 European
Parliament elections, the AfD won 7.1
percent and it now polls at between
6 and 8 percent nationally. It had its
greatest successes to date in the elections in the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia in the
autumn of 2014. With 9.7 percent in
Saxony, 10.6 percent in Thuringia, and
12.2 percent in Brandenburg the AfD
outperformed the Greens (Bndnis
90/Die Grnen) and the Liberals
(FDP) by far, and took fourth place
behind the Conservatives (CDU/
CSU), the Social Democrats (SPD),
and the Left (Die Linke). While the
6.1 percent it gathered in the election
for the city assembly in Hamburg
on February 15 may look like a less
impressive result, it is actually a mile-

stone in the partys efforts to reach


out to voters regardless of regional
particularities, income, or ideological
preferences. This indicates that it
can tap into electorates in a liberal
metropolis as much as in rural and
conservative regions, which means
other parties will have to reckon with
it for the foreseeable future.
From the start, there has been much
discussion within the party over how
to position it in the political spectrum. Founded in opposition to the
governments handling of the euro
crises, the AfD is fast extending the
range of topics it campaigns on. By
the start of 2014, its two prime issues
were abolition of the euro area and
substantial tightening of immigration
and integration policies. Polls from
the summer of 2014 indicate that up
to 30 percent of voters sympathize
with the AfD.1 So far, its spokespersons are keen on cultivating the image
of a moderate party. One AfD vice
spokesperson, Hans-Olaf Henkel, has
described it as the last truly liberal
1 Welt (June 4, 2014). Jeder dritte Deutsche will die AfD
im Bundestag. http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/
article128706682/Jeder-dritte-Deutsche-will-die-AfD-imBundestag.html.

Europe Program

Policy Brief
party in Germany.2 The head of the
partys regional chapter in Saxony,
Frauke Petry, wants to establish the
AfD as a conservative political force in
the democratic spectrum where the
CDU/CSU once stood.3 This stands in
contrast to the informal party leader,
Bernd Lucke, who sees the AfD as a
modern peoples party, which cannot
be placed according to a left-right
scheme.4

Figure 1: Where AfD Voters Come From (Party Affiliation in Previous


Elections on the Respective Level, in Percent)

Its program, election manifestos and


leadership show that the AfD is not
part of the liberal or conservative
party families. Instead, it is a textbook
example of right-wing populism. It
appeals to voters with differing socioeconomic profiles, the party structure
is based on authoritarian leadership, and some of the AfDs members
have reported affiliations with rightextremist organizations. The party
Source: Infratest Dimap, authors calculations
combines simplistic anti-elite rhetoric
with neo-nationalist positions under
fied as strongly nationalist and half as xenophobic.6 The
the classic right-wing populist formula
corresponding figures for the overall population are 14
that can be summed up as being for the imagined glorified
and 20 percent, respectively, which combined, reflect the
past of the nation, against the political establishment.
poll finding that one-third of voters stated that they would
appreciate the AfD entering the German parliament.7
The AfDs Electoral Base: A New Peoples Party
Contrary to some assumptions, the AfDs electoral base is
Recent elections show that the AfD attracts voters from
not on the political fringes. It is in fact very attractive to
across the political spectrum. Results since 2013 show that
some middle class voters with relatively high income and
it attracts voters principally from the CDU/CSU, the FDP,
higher education.5 A study on the value-sets of Germans
the Die Linke, and the SPD, but also to a slightly lesser
found that one-third of AfD supporters can be classidegree from other smaller parties (mainly the right-wing
extremist National Democratic Party of Germany NPD).
It also mobilizes previous non-voters quite successfully. It
looked initially as though the AfD attracted liberal FDP
2 N24 (January 14, 2014). Euro-Kritiker schielen auf liberale Whler. http://www.n24.
voters in particular, but the elections in 2014 have showed
de/n24/Nachrichten/Politik/d/4123906/euro-kritiker-schielen-auf-liberale-waehler.
html.
that it increasingly attracts voters from the CDU, the SPD
and Die Linke as well (see Figure 1).
3 Welt (August 31, 2014). AfD-Leitbild ist eine rechte demokratische Politik. http://
www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article131778768/AfD-Leitbild-ist-eine-rechte-demokratische-Politik.html.

4 Thringer-Allgemeine (March 24, 2014). AfD-Chef Lucke in Erfurt: Wir stehen nicht
rechts von der CSU. http://www.thueringer-allgemeine.de/web/zgt/politik/detail/-/
specific/AfD-Chef-Lucke-in-Erfurt-Wir-stehen-nicht-rechts-von-der-CSU-990041678.
5 Stern (June 4, 2014). Wer die AfD whlt. http://www.stern.de/politik/deutschland/
forsa-analyse-wer-die-afd-waehlt-2115316.html

6 Decker, O., J. Kiess, and E. Brhler (2014). Die stabilisierte Mitte. Rechtsextreme Einstellung in Deutschland 2014. http://www.uni-leipzig.de/~kredo/Mitte_Leipzig_Internet.
pdf. Universitt Leipzig.
7 Welt (June 4, 2014). op cit.

Europe Program

Policy Brief
This pattern nearly perfectly
resembles that of electoral
support for right-wing
populist parties across
Europe, which mainly
bring together supporters
of center-right and social
democratic parties, as well
as protest voters. It confirms
that right-wing populist
parties unite voters with a
conservative value-set and
those keen on stating their
general political dissatisfaction.8

Figure 2: Topics German Voters Associate with the AfD, in Percent

As with other right-wing


populist parties in Europe,
the voters of the AfD hardly
Source: Institut fr Demoskopie Allensbach
differ from supporters of
moderate political parties in
middle class voters from liberal and conservative parties.9
terms of age, education, gender, or income. Employment
Here again, the AfD fits the pattern perfectly.
status or economic circumstances do not automatically
explain sympathy for right-wing populist parties. Contrary
The AfD Program: Sheltering Germany
to suggestions, dire economic outlooks tend to decrease
In the summer of 2014, when voters were asked to name
their appeal. High unemployment and low growth are bad
topics they associate with the AfD, economic policy was
news for right-wing populists because they are not seen
hardly mentioned. Instead, the AfD was mainly associated
as offering a substantial program on social and economic
with topics where interaction with external influence is
affairs. The AfDs rise at a time of economic growth and
called for: restricting immigration, abolition of the euro,
shrinking unemployment in Germany fits this picture.
and defending Germanys interest in general (Figure 2).
Right-wing populist parties can profit from economic
issues only when established parties frame these as interwoven with matters of national identity, immigration, and
European integration. This has been the case in France
with the Front National, for example. Voters are more
inclined to support right-wing populist parties when topics
concerning national identity become as salient as economic
ones. This explains why they can attract blue-collar
workers, students, and unionists from left and mid-left
parties as much as white-collar workers, pensioners, and

8 Lochocki, T. (2014a). Rechtspopulismus in Westeuropa. Erklrungen fr den Erfolg


rechtspopulistischer Parteien in Westeuropa im Auftrag des Mediendienstes Integration.
http://mediendienst-integration.de/fileadmin/Dateien/Rechtspopulismus_Informationspapier_Lochocki_MDI.pdf.

Multiculturalism, Asylum, and Immigration:


Closing the Borders
The question of the Euro was initially the raison dtre for
the AfD, but the party has since widened its programmatic
scope to immigration-related topics. The AfD positions
itself in resistance to a multicultural Germany, rather
than as being against immigration per se. It argues that
immigration and integration policies should safeguard a
Christian society in Germany and should be especially
cautious in relation to immigrants of the Muslim faith. The
protection of Christian values must receive far broader
9 Fieschi, C. (2013). Introduction. Populist Fantasies: European revolts in context,
Counterpoint.; Mudde, C. (2013). The 2012 Stein Rokkan Lecture. Three decades of
populist radical right parties in Western Europe: So what? European Journal of Political
Research 52(1): 1-19.; Rydgren, J. (2007). The Sociology of the Radical Right. Annual
Review of Sociology 33: 241-262.

Europe Program

Policy Brief
state support, and heterosexual German couples should be
encouraged to have more children.

shows no ambition to reform whatsoever. France would be


well advised to drop out of the euro area.17

The AfD therefore also wants to reduce the number of


asylum-seekers. One of its position papers states that
Germany is over-proportionally taking in asylum seekers
in comparison to other European countries and calls for
reducing their number significantly.10 The head of the
AfDs chapter in Brandenburg, Alexander Gauland, said
shortly before the states election that German politics
just cannot cope with the surge of immigrants and asylum
seekers any longer.11

Statements by AfD representatives on the euro area and


France in particular show that it is not French economic
policies or the macro-economic conditions the country
faces that are depicted as the challenge. Instead, what is
seen as the root of the problem is French culture. Similarly,
the economic success of Germany is not interpreted as a
result of economic reforms or a good macro-economic
context, but as a sign of superiority of German culture.
Following this logic, Germany should refrain from affiliating closely with countries embracing a culture that is not
as propitious as its own.18

The Euro and European Integration:


Protecting German Culture
The AfD is not against the European Union per se, but
wants to abolish the euro area in its current form.12 It
bases its highly skeptical positions toward the EU on three
main arguments. First, since its introduction, the euro has
led to economic disadvantages for Germany.13 Second,
the bureaucratic apparatus of the EU is unnecessarily
oversized.14 Third, the transfer of national powers to a
supranational and intergovernmental body such as the EU
is illegitimate until there is a national referendum on the
issue.15
According to the AfD, the challenges in the euro area
should be solved by the reintroduction of national
currency areas.16 As long as a substantial restructuring of
the euro area seems out of reach, the party calls for certain
countries to leave it. For example, Bernd Lucke has said
that France is not capable of coping with its economic
problems, does not stick to the Maastricht criteria, and
10 http://www.alternativefuer.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Argument-13-Asylpolitik.pdf
11 Welt (September 15, 2014). Kalkulierter Tabubruch der AfD bei der Zuwanderung.
http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article132278661/Kalkulierter-Tabubruch-derAfD-bei-der-Zuwanderung.html.
12 http://www.alternativefuer.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Politische-Leitliniender-Alternative-f%C3%BCr-Deutschland-Mai-2014-finale-Fassung.pdf
13 http://www.alternativefuer.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/V2_EM01_WirtschaftProfitiert_AfD.pdf
14 http://www.alternativefuer.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Argument-1-EU-Fakten.
pdf
15 http://www.alternativefuer.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Politische-Leitliniender-Alternative-f%C3%BCr-Deutschland-Mai-2014-finale-Fassung.pdf
16 http://www.alternativefuer.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Politische-Leitliniender-Alternative-f%C3%BCr-Deutschland-Mai-2014-finale-Fassung.pdf

The economic success of


Germany is not interpreted as a
result of economic reforms or a
good macro-economic context, but
as a sign of superiority of German
culture.
This strong emphasis on cultural aspects helps explain
why the euro functions as prime symbolic political issue
that distinguishes AfD sympathizers from the rest of
voters. Both groups differ clearly on the evaluation of the
euro: while 24 percent of Germans think the introduction of the single currency had disadvantages, 73 percent
of AfD voters hold this view. Conversely, while 32 percent
of Germans conceive of the euro as an advantage, only 9
percent of AfD voters agree.19
17 Welt (October 12, 2014). AfD Chef: Frankreich sollte Euro aufgeben. http://www.
welt.de/newsticker/dpa_nt/infoline_nt/brennpunkte_nt/article133179208/Frankreichsollte-Euro-aufgeben.html.
18 Bornowski, D. and L. J. Frster (2014). Competitive Populism - The Alternative
for Germany and the influence of economics. https://www.otto-brenner-stiftung.de/
fileadmin/user_data/stiftung/Veranstaltungen/MOE/2014/2014_03_31_AfD_Paper.
pdf, Otto Brenner Stiftung.
19 Institut fr Demoskopie Allensbach

Europe Program

Policy Brief
In Germanys Interest: Recalibrating Relations
with Russia and the United States
The AfD calls for a general overhaul of Germanys role in
international affairs. This especially applies in relation to
the two countries of highest strategic importance for the
country: Russia and the United States. AfDs vice speaker,
Alexander Gauland, the partys expert on foreign policy,
has shown strong sympathy for Russias interference in
Ukraine. He has argued that it is merely reaching out for
territory that constitutes the core of modern Russia, and
that denying Russias influence in this area would be similar
to denying Germany claiming the cities of Aachen or
Cologne.20 The AfD rejects all forms of sanctions against
Russia and wants Germany and the EU to remain neutral
in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.21 This call for
German and EU neutrality is not limited to the conflict
in Ukraine only: the AfD says it should be the guiding
principle for all disputes that any European country east of
Germany might have with Russia.22
Not only does the AfD take a far friendlier stance toward
Russia than most other parties, it is also far more skeptical toward the United States. For example, it rejects the
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement (TTIP),
depicting it as a threat to Germanys consumer protection
and environmental standards, social welfare and cultural
policies, and constitutional process.23 While the partys
conservative wing around Lucke is less outspoken with
regard to U.S.-German relations, Gauland has stated that
the epoch of intense transatlantic cooperation ended in
1990.24
The AfD in the German Party Spectrum
The AfDs campaign program perfectly fits the winning
formula of other right-wing populist parties in Europe.25 It
is characterized by a lack of economic policies and a strong
20 http://www.alternativefuer.de/thesenpapier-aussenpolitik/
21 http://www.alternativefuer.de/thesenpapier-aussenpolitik/
22 http://www.alternativefuer.de/programm-hintergrund/fragen-und-antworten/aussenpolitik/
23 http://www.alternativefuer.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Argument-9-Freihandelsabkommen.pdf
24 Welt (August 20, 2014). Tiefer Riss durchzieht die AfD in Russland-Frage. http://
www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article131432482/Tiefer-Riss-durchzieht-die-AfD-inRussland-Frage.html.
25 Ennser, L. (2010). The homogeneity of West European party families. The radical
right in comparative perspective. Party Politics 20: 286-296; Fieschi, C. (2013). Introduction. Populist Fantasies: European revolts in context, Counterpoint.

focus on a nostalgic nationalism aiming at rewinding


the social changes of the last decades. It rejects Europeanization, multiculturalism, and international cooperation. Instead, the party calls for a Germany that is hardly
connected to other countries and is imagined as a culturally and ethnically homogenous society. In most of these
points, it differs from German mainstream parties.

The party calls for a Germany


that is hardly connected to
other countries and is imagined
as a culturally and ethnically
homogenous society.
Figure 3 shows where the AfD key programmatic points
overlap with those of other German parties, and
crucially where they do not. With its take on immigration and foreign policy, some of the AfDs ideas clearly
overlap some of those of right-extremist parties. The
pivotal difference from parties such as the right-extremist
NPD is that the AfD clearly adheres to the principle of
parliamentary democracy. It also shares certain positions
with the conservative CDU/CSU in matters of immigration but nothing more. So Henkels claim that the AfD is
a liberal political force is not supported by any evidence.
It is neither right-extreme, nor conservative, nor a center
party, nor a liberal party. The AfD is a clear-cut right-wing
populist party.
With its approach to economic issues wrapped in a
nostalgic and idealized image of the countrys past, the
AfD appeals to voters who feel an overarching uncertainty
and crave for belonging in times of globalized migration. Campaigning for an idealized past is the paramount
program of all right-wing populist parties. This past is
imagined as a time where voters could rely on clear-cut
points of reference. Everything that is imagined to have
happened since the countrys imagined glorified times is
condemned: globalization, Europeanization, changes in
values, decay of unions and churches, reorganizations in

Europe Program

Policy Brief
Figure 3: The Political Positioning of the AfD and Other Right-Wing Populists

Source: Author

the world of labor, and the changing role of the welfare


state. However, not all of these alleged changes can easily
be translated into political rhetoric and policy demands.
Consequently, right-wing populist parties focus issues
that can clearly be portrayed as an external threat. This
logic explains why sympathizers of right-wing populism
primarily scapegoat the EU and multiculturalism for all
political problems.
Ascribing these undesired changes to a time when established, moderate parties governed, the simplistic rightwing populist anti-elite rhetoric accuses them of failing to
protect the country. This logic is at the base of the winning
formula of right-wing populist parties, which present
themselves as being for the glorified past of the nation and

against the political


establishment. The
AfD fits this categorization perfectly.26

Organization and
Leadership Still in
the Making
In Germany and
across Europe, many
right-wing populist
parties that emerged
with narratives
similar to the AfDs
have self-destructed
in the past. This
has usually been
through a combination of their core
issues losing salience
or being co-opted,
internal differences,
or lack of organizational capacity.
This happened in
Germany before in
the short-lived electoral advances of Die
Republikaner, the
last right-wing populist party to gather substantial support,
which also polled steadily at 6-8 percent nationwide in
the early 1990s. But when all the major parties agreed to
change the constitution to tighten asylum law in 1992-93,
support for the party quickly fell. It has not attracted more
than 2 percent of voters since. This decline fuelled internal
frictions in the party, which in turn further drove voters
away.
For as long as its core issues make it popular to voters,
the AfD is not likely to self-destruct as a result of internal
divisions alone. Its leadership mainly consists of former
CDU politicians and national-conservative intellectuals.
26 Fieschi, C. (2013). Introduction. Populist Fantasies: European revolts in context,
Counterpoint.; Mudde, C. (2013). The 2012 Stein Rokkan Lecture. Three decades of
populist radical right parties in Western Europe: So what? European Journal of Political
Research 52(1): 1-19.; Rydgren, J. (2007). The Sociology of the Radical Right. Annual
Review of Sociology 33: 241-262.

Europe Program

Policy Brief
This provides the party with a mix of party-management
skills and intellectual rigor that is likely to prevent it from
collapsing.
This is not to say that there are no internal division within
the AfD. Until January 2015, it relied on three equal
spokespersons: Konrad Adam, Bernd Lucke, and Frauke
Petry. Lucke, a professor of economics from the University
of Hamburg, has effectively acted as informal party leader.
He was considered to be best suited to representing a party
critical of European monetary and fiscal policies. Infighting
over the organizational and programmatic development of
the party in 2013 and 2014 led Lucke to state that he would
step down from the leadership unless he was elected the
sole leader. Despite fierce resistance, he was able to settle
almost all organizational matters in his favor at the party
congress in early February 2015. The party will continue
with its three spokespersons until April 2015, when their
number will be reduced to two. From November, it will
have a single chairperson. There is hardly any doubt that
Lucke will be elected as sole party leader at that point,
which means that the party will face fierce internal debates
over its program in the months to come.
The liberal wing of the AfD lost influence, with its key
figures quitting the party over the last two years after losing
internal battles. They complained about the lack of liberal
positions within the party and the absence of internal
democracy. With a few exceptions, the infighting now takes
place between the conservatives around Lucke and the
national-conservatives around Adam, Petry, and Gauland.
Their substantial programmatic differences can be illustrated with the debate on how to deal with the Pegida
protests. Pegida, which stands for Patriotic Europeans
against the Islamization of the Occident, has organized
marches in different cities since October 2014. While 17
percent of the general public sympathizes with it, among
AfD supporters, that figure jumps to 70 percent.27 The
movement has been condemned as racist and xenophobic
by Chancellor Angela Merkel and almost all other leading
politicians and by Lucke, who here sides with the established parties and rejects any collaboration with Pegida.
However, Adam, Gauland, and Petry sympathize with the

The party will face fierce internal


debates over its program in the
months to come.
movements cause and have met its organizers. Gauland has
even referred to Pegida as the AfDs natural ally.28
As with other regional AfD chapters, the three that
entered the state parliaments of Brandenburg, Saxony
and Thuringia in the autumn of 2014 have elements with
reported ties to right-extremist organizations. Some of
their prominent members were expelled after such connections became public.29 These three chapters belong to
the national-conservative wing of the AfD, whereas the
Hamburg chapter belongs to the conservative wing around
Lucke. The party won 10-12 percent in eastern states
through a strong nationalist rhetoric, so the nationalconservative wing is likely to see the 6 percent won in
Hamburg through a more classic conservative campaign as
vindicating an aggressively nationalist course.
All of these developments fit the pattern of right-wing
populist parties in Europe. When they emerge as new
actors in the party system with an agenda of nostalgic
nationalism, these parties are attractive to sympathizers of
right-extremist organizations. But while they might have
programmatic similarities, right-wing populist parties are
anti-establishment not anti-democracy parties, as rightextremist parties are. Being accused of right-extremism is a
major threat for right-wing populist parties, undermining
their appeal to the largest share of their voter base. Thus,
winning the internal fight against right-extremist elements
is key for their progress. Only then can they remain attractive to more than the small minority (usually about 2-3
percent) of voters that sympathizes with right-extremism.
This struggle is not a linear process. Even after such an
internal struggle, right-wing populist parties will retain
at least some members with reported affiliations to rightextremist organizations.
28 Welt (January 2, 2015). Hass und Machtversessenheit spalten AfD-Vorstand. http://
www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article135945125/Hass-und-Machtversessenheitspalten-AfD-Vorstand.html.

27 Zeit (January 16, 2015). Pegida nur bei AfD-Whlern beliebt. http://www.zeit.de/
politik/deutschland/2015-01/pegida-afd-politbarometer

29 Husler, A. and R. Roeser (2014). Rechtspopulismus in Europa und die rechtspopulistische Lcke in Deutschland. Erfurt, Mobit e.V.

Europe Program

Policy Brief
In order to streamline the partys programmatic appeal
and its organizational structure, most right-wing populist parties also tend to be organized around one dominant leading figure. This authoritarian model serves two
purposes. First, the leader symbolizes the partys claim
to present clear-cut solutions to complex political problems. Second, having a strong leader who is not from
the extremist faction prevents the latter from gaining
momentum within the party.30 The AfDs internal turmoil
around the leadership of Bernd Lucke and the organizational revamp follow this well-known pattern.
A Consolidated Right-Wing Populist Party
to Reckon With
This analysis shows that the AfD is clearly a right-wing
populist party with solid voter potential. At least 30 percent
of voters see it as a credible political force for which they
have sympathies.31 Its ongoing organizational consolidation will most likely help it endure, and its right-extremist
element will not hamper its electoral advances. Its electoral
appeal based on nostalgic nationalism places the AfD
in the same category as successful right-wing populist
parties such as the Front National in France or the United
Kingdom Independence Party.
As it becomes a more prominent party, voters will almost
entirely base their voting decision on a comparison of the
AfDs program with that of other parties. This means that
their strategy of avoiding the AfDs program altogether will
lead to voters continuing to turn away from other parties.
Instead, as analyses of strategies to deal with right-wing
populists in other EU member states have shown, other
parties can reclaim a substantial number of voters that have
switched to the AfD by co-opting parts of its program and
also proposing policies to protect German culture. This
does not mean duplicating or adopting the AfDs ideas.
Instead, it entails staying with or reintroducing conservative positions on matters of immigration and European
30 Fieschi, C. (2013). Introduction. Populist Fantasies: European revolts in context,
Counterpoint.; Mudde, C. (2013). The 2012 Stein Rokkan Lecture. Three decades of
populist radical right parties in Western Europe: So what? European Journal of Political
Research 52(1): 1-19.; Rydgren, J. (2007). The Sociology of the Radical Right. Annual
Review of Sociology 33: 241-262.
31 Welt (June 4,2014). Jeder dritte Deutsche will die AfD im Bundestag http://www.
welt.de/politik/deutschland/article128706682/Jeder-dritte-Deutsche-will-die-AfD-imBundestag.html.

Other parties can reclaim a


substantial number of voters that
have switched to the AfD by coopting parts of its program and
also proposing policies to protect
German culture.
cooperation that the traditional parties once proposed.32
Studying the varying experiences of different right-wing
populist parties in Europe since 2009 and the different
reactions of other parties to their appearance on the scene
supports this view. Right-wing populists have flourished
where voters thought that moderate parties were abandoning anti-multiculturalism and anti-euro positions.
Moderate parties can therefore significantly impede populists advance by reclaiming some of these positions that
voters associated with them in the first place.33
Consequently, it is likely that the fate of the AfD will largely
depend on the how the CDU/CSU and the SPD deal with
topics of immigration and European integration in the
years to come. Downplaying these issues will lead more
voters to buy into the AfDs rhetoric of being the only
party addressing their concerns. As in comparable Western
democracies, liberal stances on immigration and strongly
pro-European positions by the mainstream parties will
fuel the AfDs image as being the only party protecting
German culture. In contrast, positions that also cater to
the concerns and demands of AfD voters will create incentives for them to return to the established parties.
32 Meguid, B. M. (2005). Competition Between Unequals: The Role of Mainstream
Party Strategy in Niche Party Success. American Political Science Review 99(3); Ellinas,
A. (2010). The Media and the Far Right in Western Europe: Playing the Nationalist Card.
Cambridge, University Press; Bornschier, S. (2011). Why a right-wing populist party
emerged in France but not in Germany: cleavages and actors in the formation of a newcultural divide. European Political Science Review, Available on CJO 2011 doi:10.1017/
S1755773911000117
33 Lochocki, T. (2014b). The Unstoppable Far Right? How established parties communication and media reporting of European affairs affect the electoral advances of
right-populist parties. GMF Europe Policy Paper 4/2014. http://www.gmfus.org/publications/unstoppable-far-right.

Europe Program

Policy Brief
In purely electoral terms, research shows, the most promising strategies for moderate parties to reclaim voters from
the AfD are tightening asylum law and taking a restrictive stance on further EU integration and a hard line on
euro-area matters, including the possibility of letting
countries exit the currency union. However, these strategies would strengthen the nationalist tone in the domestic
debates (in the short term at least), cause a policy shift that
reduces the prospects of asylum-seekers in Germany, and
make much needed further integration in the euro area
politically much more difficult. These difficult trade-offs
illustrate the dilemma moderate German parties face in
dealing with the AfD. Between now and the national elections in 2017, however, this may be an unavoidable price to
pay to counter the rise of the AfD, which is necessary for
Germany to be the motor of European integration in the
longer run.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the


views of the author alone.

About the Author


Dr. Timo Lochocki is a transatlantic fellow of GMFs Europe Program,
based in Berlin.

About the Europe Program


The Europe Program aims to enhance understanding of the challenges facing the European Union and the potential implications for the
transatlantic relationship. Analysis, research, and policy recommendations are designed to understand the dichotomy of disintegration
and deepening of the EU and to help improve the political, economic,
financial, and social stability of the EU and its member states. In 2014,
the Europe Program focuses on integration and disintegration in the
EU, the deepening of the euro area, the changing role of Germany in
Europe and the world, as well as challenges in the EUs neighborhood.

About GMF
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens
transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges
and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by
supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic
sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business
communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic
topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed
commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in
1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization through a gift from
Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF
maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition
to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has offices in Berlin,
Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, and Warsaw. GMF also
has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.