Germany’s eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland has taken a big step towards establishing itself as a national political force by winning seats in elections in Hamburg, its first in a west German regional assembly following its recent successes in the east.
The outcome of Sunday’s poll will put pressure on chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU, which suffered its worst-ever Hamburg result, and raise questions about the ruling party’s strategy on key AfD issues, notably immigration.
Capitalising on a recent surge in anti-immigration sentiment, the AfD won 6.1 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s polls, helping to push the CDU down to 15.9 per cent, a full 6.1 percentage points lower than in the last election in 2011….
AfD leader Bernd Lucke, who lives near Hamburg, said the results showed the party could win support not only in eastern Germany — where voters often switch sides — but also in the west, where the old established parties were stronger.
Frauke Petry, the AfD’s outspoken leader in Saxony, which has seen the largest of the recent anti-immigration protests, put it more bluntly. She argued that the anti-immigration message also resonated among party supporters in Hamburg. “When you look at what relevant issues were chosen by AfD Hamburg for their posters, they were original AfD subjects such as domestic security, Islam and immigration,” she said.
So far as its euroskepticism is concerned, the AfD, a blend of “populist” and free-market right, is anti-euro rather than anti-EU, but, like Britain’s UKIP, its platform has broadened to include immigration (an issue that could put the party at odds with the EU’s rules on the free movement of workers within the bloc) and opposition to the stifling multiculturalist orthodoxy that predominates within its country’s political establishment.
And there’s something else. We’ve heard a lot recently about what Greek voters want from their next bailout, but not so much about what (far more numerous) German voters might think. Take it from me — the two constituencies do not see things the same way: there are many ways in which one size does not fit all.
The AfD did not, of course, win in Hamburg (the party only scored in mid-single digits after all), but its continuing rise is a reminder that Mrs. Merkel needs to pay rather more attention to Germany than to the demands of either Greece or ‘ever closer union’.
That’s not to say that she will, however.