Why was a local government established?

Parties in Germany

Frank Decker

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Prof. Dr. Frank Decker teaches and researches at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. His research interests include political parties, western systems of government and right-wing populism in an international comparison.

The AfD was founded in 2013 in protest against the euro rescue policy. Despite several changes in personnel, she has managed to get into parliament in all elections since 2014. The refugee crisis that began in autumn 2015 is considered to be decisive for their nationwide success.

AfD shoulder bag at the founding party conference in 2013: The controlled dissolution of the monetary union and thus the abolition of the euro was the main main demand of the AfD at the beginning. (& copy dpa)

With Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), founded in 2013, for the first time in the history of the Federal Republic a party on the right-wing edge of the party system was able to establish itself across the board. The background to this was the crisis of the European Monetary Union that broke out in the wake of the international financial market crisis from 2010, and the AfD considered it fundamentally unsuccessful in overcoming it by the EU and its member states. Political scientists apostrophized the AfD in its founding and development phase as a liberal-conservative "Euro-critical" party, but not yet as a right-wing populist party. It wasn't until 2014 that she began to develop a right-wing populist and in some cases even right-wing extremist profile - driven by her electoral successes in the eastern German states.

The history of the AfD can be traced back to the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which decided to introduce the common European currency. After an unsuccessful lawsuit before the Federal Constitutional Court in October 1993, a group of euro opponents around the former Bavarian FDP chairman Manfred Brunner decided to continue the resistance politically and founded the "Bund Freier Bürger" party. This embedded the criticism of the European single currency in a broader right-wing populist concept that also addressed issues such as the fight against crime and immigration. The combination of conservative and liberal elements, reminiscent of the Austrian FPÖ's recipe for success, was adopted in a similar form by the AfD twenty years later. Joachim Starbatty, who was one of the plaintiffs against the Maastricht Treaty and for a short time 1994 deputy federal chairman of the BFB, was one of the founding members of the "Wahlalternative 2013" initiated by Bernd Lucke, Konrad Adam, Alexander Gauland and others in September 2012. , from which the AfD emerged shortly afterwards.

The immediate cause of the new party can be dated fairly precisely on March 25, 2010. On that day, Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out direct financial aid to the Greeks, who were particularly hard hit by the euro crisis, in a speech to the Bundestag in order to nevertheless approve the first rescue package for Greece at the EU summit that took place a few hours later (Niedermayer 2015: 177). Merkel's justification for her decision as "no alternative" became the buzzword and the hook for naming the alternative and AfD.

The Hamburg economics professor Bernd Lucke played a key role in the founding process. In the fall of 2010, the latter set up a "plenum of economists", whose appeals critical of the euro did not, however, initially have an impact beyond the boundaries of the specialist public. The topic only developed political impetus when the rescue policy became more stable in 2011 through the introduction of a permanent stability mechanism (ESM), which also met with reservations in the governing parties CDU / CSU and FDP. After the Bundestag approved the ESM in mid-2012, a non-partisan rallying movement against European politics was formed under the title "Bündnis Bürgerwille", which included not only a number of Union and FDP politicians but also the later protagonists of the AfD; In addition to Lucke, this included, for example, the former president of the industrial association Hans-Olaf Henkel and the initiator of the Christian fundamentalist Internet platform "Civil Coalition" Beatrix von Storch. The decisive step towards founding the party took place with the "Elective Alternative 2013" launched by Lucke, Konrad Adam and Alexander Gauland. For the Bundestag election, this initially sought to work with the "free voters", but this did not bring the hoped-for election success in the first trial run in the Lower Saxony state election at the beginning of 2013. Fundamental doubts about the campaigning ability of the Free Voters, who see themselves more as a local political force, finally led Lucke, Adam and Gauland to run the project of their own party with the AfD.

At the Berlin "founding party conference" on April 13, 2013 - a good two months after the official founding on February 6 - Bernd Lucke, Konrad Adam and Frauke Petry were elected as equal spokesmen for the party executive. Thanks to its good resources, which it also owes to its relationships with medium-sized businesses, the AfD was able to set up its organization more quickly. The establishment of the 16 regional associations, which had already started before the party congress, was completed in May 2013; the party had around 10,000 members at that time. The AfD was able to welcome many defectors in its ranks, almost all of whom came from the camp of the bourgeois parties, but only from the second member there. Lucke and Gauland had previously been in the CDU, while Henkel had found the AfD after a detour via the Free Voters from the FDP (Decker 2016: 13 ff.).

Bernd Lucke (right), as one of the spokespersons for the board, was also the defining face of the AfD for a long time. As the top candidate for the AfD in the European elections, he - like the former BDI President Hans-Olaf Henkel (left) - entered the European Parliament in 2014 for the party. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

In the 2013 federal election and the state election that took place in Hesse on the same day, the AfD only narrowly missed entry into the parliaments. Her triumph in the European elections in May 2014 was all the greater, when she received 7.1 percent of the vote and - led by top candidate Lucke - was able to send seven members to the European Parliament. These were accepted into the group of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which consists of a majority of representatives from the British Conservatives. Many AfD candidates also moved into local councils and city councils in the local elections that took place in ten federal states at the same time as the European elections.

The Bundestag and European election campaigns of the AfD were dominated by their core demand - a controlled dissolution of the monetary union. Nevertheless, the AfD was not a "one-topic party". On the one hand, it incorporated the euro criticism into a program that is strongly oriented towards market liberalization. On the other hand, it formulated conservative or restrictive positions in family, gender and immigration policy, whereby the "disordered immigration into the social systems" which it rejected linked the economic and cultural lines of conflict with one another.

The so-called Sarrazin debate in the Federal Republic of Germany in 2010 indicated that the issue of immigration would actually be the breeding ground for a right-wing populist party. The more the public discussion moved away from the euro, the more the criticism of migration emerged as a new core topic of the AfD and the more the internal party weights shifted from economic liberalism to national conservatism. The shift to the right was favored by the successful state elections in Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg in late summer 2014, which the regional associations there saw as confirmation of their line of overcoming the economically liberal course in favor of a broader right-wing populist platform. A paper initiated by the leader of the right wing, the Thuringian state chairman Björn Höcke ("Erfurt Resolution") openly questioned the moderate course of the party leadership. At the same time, former members of the Republicans, the Schill party and the party "Freedom" joined the AfD in rows and pushed their way onto their boards (Lewandowsky 2018: 162 f.).

AfD party conference in Essen: Frauke Petry decided the vote for the office of "first spokeswoman" for herself. Bernd Lucke - previously the face of the party - left the party a little later. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

At the beginning of 2015 at the latest, it became apparent that the party leadership, which consisted mainly of representatives of the moderates, had lost the support of the functionaries and members of the AfD. Lucke tried to regain control by amending the statutes, according to which the AfD should only be led by a chairman - himself - after a brief transition phase. Although it was followed by the Bremen party congress at the end of January 2015, the decision could no longer prevent the escalation of the internal party power struggle and Lucke's defeat against Petry in the election of the chairman at the Essen party congress at the beginning of July 2015. Lucke resisted being voted out of office by gathering his supporters in his own association, the "2015 Wake Up Call", in the run-up to the party congress. This anticipated the split in the AfD. By the end of August around a fifth of the meanwhile 21,000 members left the party, including Lucke himself with Henkel, Ulrike Trebesius, Bernd Kölmel and Joachim Starbatty, most of the protagonists of the economically liberal wing. The majority of the wake-up call members supported the founding of a new Europe-critical party under Luckes leadership. However, this was so unsuccessful in the subsequent elections that she decided not to run for the Bundestag election in 2017.

While the AfD barely made it into the parliaments in the Hamburg and Bremen elections in January and May 2015, the internal party squabbles have now pushed their nationwide values ​​well below the five percent mark. Only the refugee crisis that began in September 2015, which Alexander Gauland described in an honest and unmasking statement as a "gift" for his party, should bring about the turning point. As the mouthpiece and anchor of protest for a population that was deeply unsettled by the uncontrolled influx of refugees, the AfD was literally catapulted upwards in the polls. Islamist terrorist attacks, which after Paris, Brussels and Nice also reached the German capital Berlin in December 2016, and the attacks by predominantly Maghreb migrants on women on New Year's Eve 2015/2016 in Cologne played into her hands, as did the dispute within the government over the "Asylum packages" and the criticism from parts of the Union on the course of their own chancellor. In the state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in March 2016, the AfD was in double digits for the first time with 15.1 and 12.6 percent, respectively, and in Saxony-Anhalt it achieved the best result of a right-wing populist so far with 24.3 percent or extremist party in state elections at all. The elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (20.8 percent) and Berlin (14.2 percent) in September 2016 continued the series of successes.

The first basic program adopted by a member party conference in Stuttgart in May 2016, with its market-liberal handwriting, followed on from the guiding principles from the year it was founded. This concealed the true balance of power within the AfD after the strengthening of the national-conservative wing, whose representatives not only advocated cooperation with the Pegida movement, which was classified as Islamophobic and xenophobic, but also in some cases open contacts with the NPD environment Maintaining new rights (Häusler / Roeser 2015). There was bitter controversy in the federal executive board and the individual regional associations about how to deal with right-wing extremist tendencies. Symptomatic of this was the party exclusion proceedings against Björn Höcke, which had already been initiated under Lucke and continued by Petry, which dragged on for three years before the Thuringian Regional Arbitration Court dropped it in May 2018.

In the state elections in Saarland (March 2017) as well as in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia (May 2017), the AfD was able to move into the state parliaments again safely. The fact that the results fell short of the record levels of 2016 this time was attributed mainly to their poor appearance and the ongoing radicalization; Höcke, for example, described the Berlin Holocaust memorial in a speech in January 2017 as a "monument to shame". In addition, there were personal power conflicts that sometimes crossed the content-related and directional disputes. With her unauthorized leadership style, Petry turned so many party friends against her that she had to bury her ambitions in one of the two top candidates for the federal election. In addition to Alexander Gauland, Alice Weidel was elected in her place by the Cologne electoral congress, who together with Gauland took over the chairmanship of the parliamentary group after the federal election.

Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland after they were elected to the top duo of the AfD for the federal election. In the background: AfD spokesman Jörg Meuthen. (& copy dpa)

After the disputes and dampening of the spring, the result was surprisingly well two-digit with 12.6 percent in the federal election. The AfD ended up as the largest of the small parties before the FDP, Left and Greens and won 94 seats. After the re-establishment of the coalition of the Union and the SPD, it formally leads the opposition in the Bundestag. As an AfD candidate, Petry won one of the party's three direct mandates in Saxony. After the election she announced her exit from parliamentary group and party and announced the founding of the "blue party", which, like Luckes ALFA or LKR, did not lead to any significant weakening of the AfD. As the successor to Petry, the parliamentary group leader Alexander Gauland, who, despite his clear position on the national-conservative wing, had meanwhile risen to the most important leading and integrative figure of the party, was elected by the Hanoverian party congress in December 2017, alongside Jörg Meuthen, as the second national spokesman with equal rights.

Although the AfD continued to be successful in surveys and elections and also managed to move into the two remaining state parliaments in Bavaria and Hesse in autumn 2018, the deep internal party crack left by the strengthening of the right-wing extremist forces could no longer be repaired by 2019 at the latest . After Meuthen had long come to terms with the "wing" led by Höcke and the Brandenburg state chairman Andreas Kalbitz - the organizational network of the völkisch-nationalist movement in the AfD - he accepted the classification of the wing published by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in March 2020 as "secured" right-wing extremist "as an occasion to pursue its formal (self) dissolution and to force Kalbitz out of the party. A narrow majority of the federal board voted for the cancellation of Kalbitz's membership due to false information when joining the party. Gauland, who had given up his office as party spokesman to Tino Chrupalla at the end of 2019, stood in the dispute as did the latter against Meuthen. However, it is by no means certain that the wing people, who are particularly well represented in the East German state associations, will actually leave the AfD. This is especially true when the AfD in the state elections in Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia in 2019 again achieved significantly better results than in the west. The party is threatened with split one year before the general election.

In addition to the personal and direction disputes, the right-wing populists also revealed a high degree of disorientation in terms of content in their opposition role. They were unable to meet their claim to "want to drive" the Merkel government. While the refugee issue became less important, the AfD failed to translate its vague anti-climate protection stance into a concise and publicly perceptible counter-position to government policy. This weakness became even more blatant during the corona crisis, where the leadership missed a clear line and parts of the party and supporters blatantly sided with the corona deniers. Together with the internal quarrels, the lack of a discernible political offer led to the AfD falling behind in the polls and, for the first time since the 2017 Bundestag election, no more double-digit values ​​(Ruhose 2020: 20 ff.).

In terms of power strategy, the AfD was increasingly moving into a dead end as a result of its radicalization. Their supposed coup in Thuringia in February 2020, when the parliamentary group led by Höcke led to the election of the popular Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow together with the votes of the CDU and FDP, turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. In the third ballot, the AfD MPs did not vote for their own candidate, Christoph Kindervater, but for the FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich, thus helping him to become Prime Minister. The maneuver, which most observers and the other parties perceived as unworthy of trickery, forced the AfD Union and FDP to differentiate themselves even more from the right-wing populists.The tendency to open up cooperation with the AfD, which was noticeable in parts of the CDU's East German state associations, suffered a setback as a result.

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Literature on the AfD

Bebnowski, David (2015), The Alternative for Germany. Rise and social representation of a right-wing populist party, Wiesbaden.

Decker, Frank (2016), The "Alternative for Germany" from the comparative perspective of party research, in: Alexander Häusler (ed.), Die Alternative für Deutschland, Wiesbaden, pp. 7-23.

Hafeneger, Benno et al. (2018), AfD in parliaments. Topics, strategies, actors, Frankfurt a.M.

Hambauer, Verena / Anja Mays (2018), Who Votes the AfD? A comparison of the social structure, political attitudes and attitudes towards refugees between AfD voters and the voters of the other parties, in: Zeitschrift für Comparative Political Science 12 (1), pp. 133-154.

Häusler, Alexander / Rainer Roeser (2015), Between Euro Criticism and Right-Wing Populism: Characteristics and Dynamics of the Shift to the Right in the AfD, in: Andreas Zick / Beate Küpper, Anger, Contempt, Devaluation. Right-wing populism in Germany, Bonn, pp. 124-145.

Hensel, Alexander et al. (2017), The AfD before the 2017 federal election. From protest to parliamentary opposition, Frankfurt a.M. (Otto Brenner Foundation, workbook 91).

Kemper, Andreas (2014), Germ cell of the nation? Family and gender-political positions of the AfD - an expertise, Berlin (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung).

Lewandowsky, Marcel (2018), Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), in: Frank Decker / Viola Neu (ed.), Handbook of German political parties, 3rd edition, Wiesbaden, pp. 161-170.

Niedermayer, Oskar (2015b), A New Competitor in the Party System? Die Alternative für Deutschland, in: ders. (Ed.), The parties after the federal election 2013, Wiesbaden, pp. 175-207.

Niedermayer, Oskar / Jürgen Hofrichter (2016), The electorate of the AfD: who is it, where does it come from and how far to the right is it ?, in: Zeitschrift für Parlamentfragen 47 (2), pp. 267-284.

Ruhose, Febor (2020), The AfD before the federal election in 2021. Effect - Perspectives - Strategies, Wiesbaden.

Schroeder, Wolfgang / Bernhard Weßels, eds. (2019), Smart Spalter. The AfD between movement and parliament, Bonn.