With the rise of the right-wing AfD, are we witnessing the end of German exceptionalism? It does seem so, says Stella Georgiadou.

With the rise of the right-wing AfD, are we witnessing the end of German exceptionalism? Is Germany following the same route as the majority of European countries where populist, radical right parties are on the rise? It does seem so, says political expert Stella Georgiadou.

Until quite recently, Germany was considered as an exceptional case in Europe because of the absence of a significant populist, radical right party from the country’s political life. In fact, Germany has remained essentially exempt from the wave of far right parties’ electoral success across Europe. In comparison to other European countries, Germany’s far right parties have not gained much electoral support. NPD (National Democratic Party), for example, has never managed to gain representation in the Bundestag due to its failure to gain enough votes at the federal level.

However, the 2013-founded AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) seems to be driving the country out of this state of exceptionalism. The party was formed with the aim to oppose to Eurozone bailout and had Initially adopted a conservative, Eurosceptic rhetoric and approach. However, AfD has been gradually moving towards a more populist and radical right rhetoric, especially since Frauke Petry has taken over the leadership of the party last year.

AfD: the anti-immigrant and anti-Islam positions

Last weekend’s AfD conference in Stuttgart confirmed that the party is indeed moving in this direction. The anti-immigrant and anti-Islam positions adopted in its manifesto are evidence for this. The 1,700-page manifesto included a section entitled ‘Islam is not a part of Germany’ which called for a ban to “minarets and the call to prayer, and the full-face veil for women”. According to Beatrix von Storch, a member of the European Parliament for the Alternative für Deutschland, Islam is a “political ideology that is incompatible with the German constitution”. In addition, the party proposes stricter control on immigration.

The AfD’s anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric seems to resonate with the public. The regional elections held in March 2016 have resulted in considerable gains for the AfD. In fact, the party managed to gain the strongest support a radical right, populist party has ever won in Germany after the end of World War Two.

In addition, a few days after the adoption of the aforementioned controversial manifesto by the party, an opinion poll conducted by Infratest dimap shows that the German public support for AfD is rising and is, in fact, higher than it ever was. It seems that the current refugee crisis and, more precisely, the large number of immigrants that arrived in Germany last year, has served the purpose of boosting support for the party which has been heavily criticizing Angela Markel’s open-door refugee policies.

But, the growing public support for AfD is also important for another reason. In view of the 2017 German federal election, AfD seems to be posing quite a challenge to the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), Merkel’s main coalition partner. The latest opinion poll shows that the AfD has gained 15% of the public support while SDP has gained 20%.

Overall, therefore, the AfD is not just a marginal group of Eurosceptics anymore. Rather, it has become quite a significant force within German politics. Are we then witnessing the end of Germany’s exceptionalism? Is Germany following the same route as the majority of European countries where populist, radical right parties are on the rise? It does seem so. The party’s electoral success in March 2016 as well as the rising levels of public support of the party following the adoption of a very controversial party programe last weekend, point towards this direction.

Featrued picture: Copyright: Marian Weyo

Stella Georgiadou is a Doctoral Researcher in the Department of Politics at the University of Sussex. Her research interests fall within the wider areas of comparative politics and EU politics. Her current...

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