Popular with Populists Euroskeptic Party Attracts Right Wing

Since its launch in April, euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany has been accused of peddling right-wing sentiments. A new study establishes the party's centrist status, but shows that it still attracts right-wing populist attention.

Demonstrators hold up a banner that reads "fight fascism" ahead of a campaign appearance by the head of euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany earlier this month.
DPA

Demonstrators hold up a banner that reads "fight fascism" ahead of a campaign appearance by the head of euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany earlier this month.

By Friederike Heine


As founder of the country's euroskeptic party, Bernd Lucke is among the most controversial figures in Germany. His political agenda -- which includes an "orderly dissolution" of the euro, a decentralized European Union and a move towards Swiss-style, direct democracy -- is often met with doubt, and sometimes outright hostility.

Last week, left-wing agitators stormed the stage at an Alternative for Germany (AfD) campaign event, pushing Lucke to the ground and using pepper spray on several campaigners. The attack came as little surprise, though, after a confrontation with Green Youth activists earlier this month prompted the AfD to apply for police protection on its campaign trail.

In its own mind, the AfD is classically liberal in philosophy and otherwise pro-European -- it intentionally avoids labelling itself as left- or right-wing. But the German media, ever vigilant against creeping populism and right-wing extremism, has taken to portraying it as one of several right-wing populist parties eating into Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union's voter base.

This spring, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper ran a piece on the hidden ties between the AfD and members of the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). The AfD's stance on Europe, a Berlin NPD official told the paper, was closer to NPD policies "than any other established party in Germany." Other German newspapers have taken a similar line.

No Overlap

Suspicions that the AfD may be moving into right-wing extremist territory were put into question last week, however. An Internet study published by linkfluence -- a Franco-German social media monitoring company -- suggests there is little or no overlap between the AfD's politics and those of the right-wing extremist NPD.

The study, which was overseen by the company's German chief executive Oliver Tabino, consists of two parts: an analysis of AfD and NPD supporters' Facebook "likes," and an evaluation of hyperlinks to and from the AfD's various regional party websites.

The Facebook analysis shows that supporters of the AfD and those of the NPD have little in common. While the former exhibit euroskepticism and a preference for direct democratic principles, their right-wing counterparts prefer pages relating to anti-Islamification, right-wing rock bands and the German military.

The second part of the study yielded similar results. "The AfD supporter base and the right-wing extremist scene are digitally very far removed from one another," says Tabino.

'Right-Wing Populist Interest'

The findings were well-received among AfD sympathizers, with many taking to the Internet to express their relief that the party's centrist status had been established once and for all. According to Tabino, however, the findings are not that straightforward.

"People are interpreting the report according to what they want to hear," he says. "Though the study on the one hand indicates that there is no overlap between the AfD and the NPD, it also shows that the party is attracting right-wing populist, reactionary and neo-Conservative interest."

Indeed, the hyperlink analysis conducted by Tabino shows that right-wing populist websites such as "Politically Incorrect" and "Christliche Mitte" -- which advocate anti-Islamification and tighter controls on immigration from Eastern Europe -- often link to AfD content. According to Tambino, the AfD is viewed in some circles as a legitimate mouthpiece for the right-wing populist cause.

A European Phenomenon

Indeed, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper recently asserted that the AfD was awakening "age-old nationalistic tendencies" in an editorial. "People are badmouthing Europe, neighbors and institutions," it said. "The arrogance, insecurity, resentment and political egotism that originated in 19th century Germany are once again coming to the fore."

A closer look at the AfD websites -- particularly those of its regional chapters -- reveals a certain degree of right-wing populist rhetoric, too. By advocating a break from consensus-oriented politics and decrying political correctness as a burden on free speech, the party is aligning itself with other right-wing populist movements across Europe. The party's Bavarian website, for instance, refers to "the destructive potential of political correctness."

Though Oliver Tabino is cautious in his assertions, he maintains that there could be a link between the AfD and similar movements in other European countries. "We've thought about conducting such a study," he says. "An inquiry into the AfD's affiliations with neo-populist movements in France, Holland and Belgium would yield interesting results."

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Inglenda2 08/30/2013
1. Neither extreme left, or right, just correct.
It is nothing unusual, when left wing radicals attack any group, organisation or political party which is not on the extreme left. They have been doing this ever since Stalin changed the route of communism from the way of social justice to one of dictatorship. The Antifa, for example, is little more than a violent political gang, which is quite ready and willing to use the very methods, which it damns by its opponents. It is sad and far from understandable, that the trade unions and parts of the evangelical church, are often prepared to demonstrate alongside such delinquents. The AfD is far from being right wing and its arguments are based on pure common sense, something which is found to be missing in the parties currently in the German Bundestag. Far from being anti-European, it is one of those groups which support international co-operation, while at the same time offering true representation for the electorate for which it is responsible. Few other parties have ever made an attempt to really serve all German people. Most can be seen to give way to small but powerful circles of lobbyists who, with no democratic right whatsoever, control the art and manner in which laws are prepared. Donations to the political parties must therefore unfortunately be viewed as an allowed, but debased, swaying of political decisions. The AfD therefore offers a very welcome change to the German political scene. It comes, possibly too late to rescue the saved assets of the current retired people, but with a return to a national currency, may be able to avoid a further reduction of purchasing power in the future. Whether the majority of the populace will be wise enough, to grasp this great, but possibly last opportunity, is yet to be seen.
JvdL 08/30/2013
2.
The neo-liberal social policies of the EU benefit the bankers and the share holders, and at the direct expense of the unemployed, the impoverished and the pensioners. That fact provides the evidence needed to objectively conclude it are the social policies of the EU which are right-wing -- and not the skeptics and the critics of the block its neo-liberal social policies. This is the second time that Der Spiegel intentionally sets out to speak on behalf of the aforementioned neo-liberal policies, assuming a stance that runs directly counter to the social rights of the impoverished and the unemployment masses in Southern Europe. The tactic being employed here is practiced and devious, yet transparent nonetheless.
danm 08/30/2013
3. optional
@JvdL, how does the EU harm the unemployed, impoverished and pensioners? You speak of facts, but you offer none to support your statement.
bragal 08/30/2013
4. AfD coverage
I have been appalled at the coverage of the launch of the AfD and the continuing treatment of the AfD by the press. I have no way of knowing for certain if this new party is left, right or centre, however, I can listen to what they say, how they present themselves together with the arguments they make and from there decide. I do know that when a peaceful rally is held and they are attacked by a mob of thugs wielding pepper spray and at least one knife that something is wrong, at least with the thugs, which party do they belong to? The worst part of this has been the complete lack of outright condemnation by the mainstream press as well as the other political parties. It seems to me that this condemnation is part of a mature democracy and I wonder just how mature this democracy is if the condemnation is so muted. The treatment of the AfD seems to be orchestrated by the left wing, why no question of the credentials of The Linke, the Greens, the SPD or for that matter the CDU and their supporters. I am not a German voter I am, however, a German taxpayer and I want to know what will happen after the election is out of the way. What is the cost of the Euro going to be, why do we receive scraps of information from the politicians table just before the election when, in reality, it is already clear the price will be very high. All these problems are not going away soon, in fact they are more likely to worsen in the short and medium term. I think the AfD are a welcome addition to the German political scene and whilst I can agree with some of the issues they raise others I would not be so happy with, so is the nature of politics. One thing I am certain of is that any political party can have groups attach themselves and pretend to belong the core. I am amused by the last sentence of the report about checking out the neo populist affiliations of the AfD, has Spiegel considered applying the same thinking to the other parties and applying a more balanced look at all parties affiliations. Complacency is not a good position to defend. Having said all of the above I greatly appreciate the site being in English as my German would not have been up to writing this contribution.
chuchu3151 08/31/2013
5. optional
Totally agree with JvdL, I think Der spiegel's neo-liberal stance and constant published articles that demonize the AfD in a very subtle way, is, to say the least, very disappointing. I generally enjoy controversial articles, but not when it tries in a subtle way to influence my way of thinking.
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