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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What does Alternative für Deutschland really stand for? Its getting hard to tell

Beatrix says change direction - but where to?
When the anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland was first founded, it was derided as a fringe party for professors obsessed with ordoliberalism that would struggle to make a lasting impact on the German political scene.

However, the party got within 0.3% of the vote of winning seats in the Bundestag in September and is polling at around 6%-7% ahead of the European elections, meaning it looks certain to win seats in Brussels/Strasbourg. Yet the party's relatively strong showing in the polls masks serious internal divides along personnel and policy lines.

At the start of the year, it was being reported that some founding members were leaving in disillusionment in the belief that the party was abandoning its liberal roots and embarking on a sharply 'rightward' trajectory, which was manifested by the embracing of traditional Christian moral values and taking a tough line on immigration - AfD were notably the only mainstream German party to praise the results of the Swiss referendum on curbing free movement.

Initially, it seemed that this shift to the 'right' was limited to social policy, with AfD still maintaining its liberalism on economic policy; Hans-Olaf Henkel - the former head of the Federation of German Industries - described it as "Germany's last liberal party". However, this also seems to have been consigned to the past following the party's convention over the weekend at which it voted on its manifesto for the European elections.

Crucially, the party's grassroots voted to reject the EU-US free trade deal (TTIP) currently under negotiation despite strong support from the leadership including party leader Bernd Lucke, who argued that it was a "positive, constructive objective which is very much in Germany's interest". Beatrix von Storch (pictured), an MEP candidate and high profile AfD activist - who for many epitomises the party's recent lurch towards conservatism - argued that the agreement "is not fair and will burden our country".

Interestingly, when it came to the recent events in the Crimea, the party's deputy federal spokesperson criticised the independence referendum but also called for greater "understanding" for Moscow and described the interim Ukrainian government as "not democratically legitimate". A motion was passed (to thundering applause according to FAZ) rejecting German taxpayer assistance for Ukraine and economic sanctions on Russia.

Such sentiments - scepticism of free trade deals (or 'directed trade' as libertarians would say) and emphasises on isolationism in world affairs, puts the AfD closer to either the American "Old Right" (which Europeans tend not to even remotely understand) or the European Socialist Left.

So what does all this mean? Well it seems that AfD are at risk of becoming a catch-all populist party with strongly ideologically contradictory factions rather than one which can be easily placed on the traditional 'left/right' axis. This applies to a number of other European parties which combine elements of both including the National Front, PVV, the (True) Finns party and UKIP (although UKIP economic policy is more liberal than the others'). It also shows that those Tories keen for AfD to join the ECR group in the European Parliament may wish to pause for thought.

To some extent this is not surprising given that even in its early stages the party paradoxically drew disproportionate support from former FDP and Die Linke voters. We also noted after the elections that the party had done particularly well in Eastern Germany, which tends to vote more heavily for left-wing parties than West Germany. In the East, AfD has also struggled to contain creeping take-over attempts by more nationalist elements.

The question for the party is where does it go from here: does it establish itself as a permanent protest party borrowing ideas and policies from the political smorgasbord as it sees fit  - there is clearly a gap in the market - or does it try to remain a genuine economically liberal party angling for a spot in the mainstream?


Rik said...

The issue is that nowhere in Europe the combination between desillusioned voters and business oriented policies seem to be very appealing.
It looks to be one or the other. There looks to be room for a more business oriented party in most countries. Hard to see what would be appealing in outsider parties for usually short term oriented business. This is probably the main reason that it is not a good match. By nature business wants to be close to the centre of power. At least that is my explanation, but hard to see it otherwise. FDP-rebranded imho would have had a very good chance of pulling it off. They missed however this golden opportunity (well basically missed every opportunity).

Dysenfranchised voters simply are nowhere really liberal (business wise). They are basically(social) conservative (anti-immigration, preserve the welfarestate etc).
Wilders is a very clever marketing guy. The reason he positions himself this way more or less already indicates that it (combo freetrade and dysenfranchised voters) would be a mismatch.

For AfD it simply means that although the anti-Euro policies are a real selling point for other policies the party will have to look at the 'standard' populist policies. Either the lefty ones (like Linke or SP) or the right wing ones (like LePen and Wilders).
Looking at the AfD it was clear which one of these two it would be. The right ones (no gay marriages, abortus-critical, traditional values, keep welfarestate, against immigration for effectively mainly emotional/social reasons and that kind of stuff.
Simply no market for something else.
And even now they look still way too close to traditional politcs for which most of their potential voterbase seem to have an alllergy. They look imho too traditional to be really successful as populists. Certainly in the start up phase. They simply are not good in showing themselves as a sort of mavericks. A very important feature to appeal to people who have had it with traditional politics.

While immigration is a sort of soap of WWE dimensions. The Euro issue still has to prove it has that much stamina. You need something on top of that and anyway potential voters want to know what the other policies are.

There might be some room for a libertarian party in Europe. Doubtful if the support could be as big as in the US simply by coming from other traditions. But even there hard to see if it would be really freetrade embracing.
At the end of the day history shows that new policies are often mainly big business oriented iso general business oriented. And your average libertarian is in general big business averse.
Government (or political parties) in general and certainly the EU will have to show that it is general business oriented iso of big business oriented. As far as the EU goes it seems largely against the image it has. My guess would be unless something fundamentally changes it will in no way appeal to a lot of SMEs.
Which would indicate rather a EU-sceptic or even EU-out look at things than a reform from within one.

These parties usually start as one man bands (but appealing ones) and on a platform of politics missing the link with their voterbase on an issue that is top of the agenda.
There seem to be a big element of chance in them.
And subsequently they gain momentum in attracting the whole of the desillusioned voterbase or at least large parts.
Look at Holland. Fortuyn was very different from Wilders but both look like outsiders/mavericks, but their way of approaching things was totrally different. nevertheless they ended up with the same voterbase. Apparently as there was no alternative, but the traditionals, voters found both of them good enough to vote for.

Anonymous said...

"Crucially, the party's grassroots voted to reject the EU-US free trade deal (TTIP)" I should hope so the failed political pygmies who make up the commission may think it is a good deal, but in essence it hands a huge bonus to american companies to rip off european public contracts by the use of legal action if they don't get them. This is just another of the disasters about to hit because of the eussr stupidity.

christhai said...

So Open Europe's formula - or should one say, "The EU's Open Europe quango's" insistence on "Uniformity in line with EU 'thinking' (wherever that occurs?)

Sometimes the voters, bemused, often confused by the torrent of lies from the EU, start to look behind the 'Glittering EU Curtain'.

To their horror they find that the lies they suspected are really there and are far worse than the lies they at first imagined.

Then one or two or ten of them decide that "something has to be done!"

And they form a Political Party.

It is expensive and very risky to form a Political Party.

It is even dangerous if the Party you form, in good faith, is in opposition to the totalitarian EU.

Very Important People, like Barroso, van Rompuy, Angela Merkel, David Cameron laugh at you and pay others a fortune to print bad articles about you.

You are labelled "Populist" or "Right wing" or today, "Academic".

The EU, like the Nazis before them who had most of the same goals, loved being praised - but it was death to criticise too strongly.

Welcome AfD, NF, Wilders, UKIP - you are the LIGHTS in the darkness of this EU age.

Perhaps you can persuade enough of your countrymen to leave this evil organisation.

Before the Lisbon Treaty everyone loved the other countries.

Your comments, OE on the Ukraine are rather obsequious.

FACT. The EU deliberately destabilised the Ukraine.

The damned Russians have the job to clean up the EU's mess.

Jim Kemeny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rik said...

Some loose remarks:

1. probably the best issue AfD could score with now looks to be the combination of:
- 'cold progression' (as stated by Schauble that will not be abolished);
- 'open the wallet' for the Ukraine at the same time.

A deadly combination for the CDU. It makes it look lefty to start with.
Local cuts for unwanted foreign projects with doubtful results (and clearly shown mismanagement).
It is about people's wallets (spending power), always works.
And AfD could be the only one aganst it. Rest of the current parliamentary parties will be for both.
On top of that it is EU-sceptic/critical as well by nature. So fits in well with the general picture.

Not surprising at all that AfD attracks a lot of voters from the FDP. It has simply has become the only altenative for CDU on the right. FDP looks like a goner.
The CDU hs already moved considerably to the left under merky. And this coalition makes it simply look left of middle. People traditionally on the right will look for alternatives because of that.

Freetrade US imho seems not a major issue for the Afd. At least should not be so.
It might get some or even a lot of media attention but main pressure against it will be from established groups that are probably already linked with main stream parties.
But unlikely it will be a vote changing issue, unlike immigration for instance.
The issue is much too complicated and abstract for their voterbase (or in fact the voterbase in general). Media also seem unable to clearly communicate the negatives for certain groups (and these groups should be be potential AfD voters as well).
Consequences that might change votes, if any, will very like firsat start to play when the treaty is signed and working. At which state it will be hard to change.

@Jim Kemeny
Ordoliberalism German style very unlikely will work in the EU.
The larger the organisation gets the more has to be delegated to lower levels to keep it manageable. Even more so when the complete manegement structure from top to bottom looks very weak.
Anyway that is the standard EU way rules get implemented (directives and that kind of stuff).
It could work in Germany, Skandinavia, France.
Will not work in the UK as they simply oppose the thing. But that is more political choice.
For the EUs South and East it simply has shown time and time again it will not work. And the EU simply being totally unable to enforce systems of governance in countries like that that would enable it to work. Greek, Italy long term even founding members and still in no way able to govern that way unless with massive overkill.
De facto it would create a very uneven playingfield. When measures would be good for business the North would have considerable benefits compared to the South. The other way around when they are business negative the South would benefit as rules where simply unlikely to be enforced.
In a nutshell for ordoliberalism you need a well functioning system of governance and 2/3 of the EU countries simply doesnot have that and donot seem able to move towards it on top of that.

Simply is a system that will not work within an organisation like the EU which is as said not fit for it.
The moment you took a lot of Southern and Eastern countries aboard it became a no go.
Effectively that meant that only a rather loose managementstyle will work from that moment on.

Jim Kemeny said...

I agree, and that is likely to be even more so in future. As the EU gets more members diversity will increase still further. The social market became a dead letter once East of the Oder became member states. All they wanted was to copy the USA and seek off their public rental stocks at any price. The irony is that every time the bubble bursts its these countries which will suffer the most.

Anonymous said...

> taking a tough line on immigration

That's fine, since immigration in a social welfrare state is extremely socialist.

Personally I welcome any party that's a), not too crazy and b), anti-EU.
If AfD decides they're an anti-EU party they don't need to decide anything else. And since that looks like it's been decided, they're good to go.
I'd they remain pro-free trade, anti-EU, anti-euro and anti-socialist (anto-migration and anti-welfare, at least for foreigners) they should be able to create decent amount of mayhem in the useless EU parliament.

Jesper said...

If it wants to be seen as an alternative then it has to provide an alternative - not just a copy of something that already exists.

Protest party sounds a bit condescending, working against something can, and often does, mean working for something.
Using the same logic it might be possible to label the EU-federalist parties as protest parties, they are definitely against something ;-)

Rik said...

@Jim K
Hard to see even if they wanted it politically that:
a) they could get it properly organised (and not like say Greece with either a red tape overload or with holes in enforecement the size of the Pacific);
b) they could afford it (hard to see where the tax revenue to pay for a welfarestate should come from.

Re my point b) even hard to see that they will be able to pay for a West European welfarestate somewhere in the future.
Demographics are worst than awful. Because the 89 aftermath with an extremely low birthrate and basically now having an aging society (with average birth below 2.0). Plus often 1-2% of their population moving out (usually in the first decade of their working careers (the worst possible timing).

On top of that they now have competition from half the world which Europe didnot have. It had only Japan to deal with. Internationally now the East has to compete with half the world populationwise. The half where all the growth is on top of that again.
The only advantage the East got is that most new EU jobs will unless geographically determined be with them. Nobody will invest for these down South with worse educated workers for double or more the price. For the EU as a whole however that is largely a zero-sum game.

Basically this overall will determine the alternatives the EU has when put before policy choices. You can not have high wages, high tax countries in the West EU competing with good quality but low cost labour in a medium tax enviroment in the East. Would be as far from an even playing filed as possible.
They might try it to start with unlikely that longer term market forces will simply put things straight (likely after a crisis of some sort, after the welfarestate in a hard competing marketsystem has driven into the wall).

Anonymous said...

Can someone provide a link to an English translation of AfD's EU election manifesto?