Frauke Petry, the head of Germany’s new AfD party, just spent a few days in Moscow to build connections with Russian politicians. The AfD party is one of a number of right-wing populist parties that have sprung up in Europe over the last few years. While it is not as well established as France’s National Front party — which is leading in some polls for the forthcoming French presidential election — it has representatives in 10 of 16 German states (this is tough under Germany’s electoral law, which discriminates against small parties through imposing electoral thresholds). Its influence on political debates in Germany is far bigger than its number of elected politicians would suggest. So what is the AfD, and how is it changing German politics?
The AfD came into being four years ago. It was a response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rescue packages for other euro-zone countries which share a common currency, the euro, with Germany. Merkel contended that there was no alternative to providing sizable loans to these countries. The AfD — whose name translates in English to the “Alternative for Germany” — argued the contrary. Initially, its members were primarily defectors from Germany’s traditional conservative and free-market liberal parties, who opposed bailing out other countries. The party quickly took up other issues such as immigration and national identity. Because of 20th century history, these topics are highly sensitive in German politics.
After an internal split in 2015, the party became still less interested in economic questions, and more focused on hot button issues such as immigration. It currently polls at 10 to 12 percent, and is very likely to enter the German federal parliament (Bundestag) in elections later this year, possibly even as the strongest opposition party.