The Corner

A Faint Stirring of Unease

The Economist’s Charlemagne mulls those recent poll findings that the (mildly) euroskeptic Alternative für Deutschsland may be drawing closer to the 5 percent it needs to make it into the German parliament in the elections later this month. Wunderbar though that would be, it looks like a long shot to me, but it’s worth taking a closer at what Charlemagne has to say:

When I spoke to Manfred Güllner at Forsa, a leading German pollster, in March, he thought the Alternative would get maybe 1% at best. Mainly we talked about whether it was more likely to draw voters away from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in which [AfD leader] Mr Lucke himself was a member for 33 years, or Mrs Merkel’s coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), or even the left parties.

Now, though, something has changed. In the profile of its supporters (as opposed to its platform), Mr Güllner told me this week, the Alternative has morphed into a new version of the Republicans, a right-wing party that gained a steady following in the 1980s and 90s and was being investigated for extremist tendencies.

Let’s re-read that carefully: Germany’s Republicans were/are indeed an unlovely lot (and Germany history means that the country’s unlovely need to be looked at with some care; I note that the Republicans were founded in a Bavarian tavern, not, perhaps, the most reassuring of beginnings), but the phrase that the AfD is a ‘new’ version of the Republicans is so vague as to be meaningless.

So back to the article for more explanation:

Fans of the Alternative tend to be: male, old, educated, well off but not super-rich, religious but without a denomination, disproportionately from Hesse and Baden-Württemberg, and above all extremely pessimistic about the economy.

Shocking! (Although the German economy is in pretty good shape)

They are also prone to conspiracy theories, says Mr Güllner. According to some of them, there is a plot to keep them down, and it contains journalists (that would be me) and pollsters (that would be Mr Güllner).

Smug much?

So far as wicked journalists are concerned, it’s worth going over to look at this article in the (left-liberal) Der Spiegel on the AfD’s (real) problem with entryism from the far right. Given where it appears, the article is reasonably even-handed, but I couldn’t help but notice that some of the evidence of the AfD’s possibly extremist tendencies includes this:

The party is lining the streets with campaign posters stating that “The euro is ruining Europe.”

Truth hurts, it seems.

But the result of attitudes such as these is, as Mr. Güllner suggests, that many AfD supporters are unwilling to disclose their true voting intentions to pollsters, and thus the growing establishment unease that the party might be doing better than many (including me) suspect.

So what does the AfD really stand for?

Charlemagne’s conclusion is carefully (and tellingly) qualified, but fair:

Contrary to what the conspiracy theorists might expect from me, I cannot say from personal experience that Mr Lucke or other members/sympathisers of the party I have talked to have right-extremist tendencies. Instead, Mr Lucke uses liberal reasoning to arrive at his Eurosceptic conclusions. And he is very good at this–on talk shows, in press conferences, in interviews. A soft-spoken professor, he can even seem shy. He refuses to be provoked and always keeps it polite. One thing he insists on clarifying is that his “euro-scepticism” is directed at the currency called the euro, not at the European Union (EU). In fact, he feels that you must ditch the euro to save the EU.

Some of the other members of the Alternative see that differently. Beatrix von Storch, a former duchess of Oldenburg, told me this week that she is Eurosceptic in both senses, since Brussels over-regulates. That still doesn’t sound extremist, if you’ve recently listened in on Britain’s House of Commons, for example….

Actually it doesn’t sound extremist under any circumstances at all.

Like many Germans, [the former duchess of Oldenburg!] draws the analogy to Germany’s domestic transfer union between the states, where rich Bavaria gives money to poor Bremen, say. “In all these years, we still haven’t fixed Bremen with our transfer union, why should we be able to fix Greece?”

Quite.

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