Feb 152017
 

Seven months before the election, what’s up with the Alternative für Deutschland?

I’ve kept repeating this since the Alternative für Deutschland’s ascendancy in the polls began in late 2015: the AfD’s electoral popularity depends on a) steering away from open right-wing extremism, which has frustrated previous attempts to establish a right-wing populist party in Germany, and b) presenting a united front. With the beginning of the (long) campaign, the party is not doing too well on both counts. Let’s have a look at seven of my favourite conflicts within the party.

Putsch in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)?

The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

#1 Right-wing extremism in Saarland – not a problem, really

The Saarland (always with the article) is a small state in the West with an interesting history and a relatively lively right-wing scene. The AfD state party is so closely involved with said right-wing extremists that the Alternative’s national executive – not normally given to anti-fascist activism – voted to disband the state party back in March 2016. However, the national executive lost a legal battle with the state party leadership, and the state party could continue. The executive then asked the state party not to field any candidates in the upcoming 2017 federal election. The state party politely declined this request. Incidentally, the state party’s number three was caught on camera selling Nazi devotionalia in his shop.

#2 Anti-Semitism in Baden-Württemberg

Shortly after the March 2016 state election in Baden-Württemberg, it emerged that Wolfgang Gedeon, one of the freshly minted MPs for the Alternative für Deutschland is an anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist. Jörg Meuthen – party leader in Baden-Württemberg, head of the parliamentary party in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament and one of the party’s two national “speakers” – , who is usually typecast as one of the remaining economic liberal/socially conservative characters in the AfD, unsuccessfully tried to expel Gedeon from the parliamentary party. As a result, the parliamentary party split in two in July. Legal and political chaos ensued. Meuthen’s co-leader Frauke Petry arrived on the scene, allegedly trying to make peace, but most observers agreed that this intervention was part of the ongoing power struggle between Petry and Meuthen. Finally, after three months of strife, the two factions re-united under Meuthen’s leadership.

#3 Candidate selection in NRW

With roughly the same population as the Netherlands, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is the most populous federal state in Germany. In German Politics, NRW and its politicians are heavy-weights. The state will go to the polls in May 2017, and the result will be read as a bellwether for the federal election September. The AfD state party is lead by Marcus Pretzell, one of the two remaining MEPs for the AfD. Pretzell is controversial within “his” party. In November, he and his inner circle were accused of using undue methods to orchestrate the selection of candidates for the upcoming state election. In January, the state’s returning officer decided that although there had been irregularities, the process was deemed legal so that he would provisionally accept the list of candidates. The final decision will be made in May. While it looks unlikely at the moment, in theory the party could be barred from taking part in the election.

#4 Litigation in Schleswig-Holstein

The northern state of Schleswig-Holstein is also going to the polls in May. Thomas Tomsen, the former (until May 2016) leader of the state party has tried to sue his successor, Jörg Nobis. Tomsen claims that scores of his supporters were not invited to the assembly that elected Nobis. In January, Tomsen lost a court case on formal grounds: The judges ruled that Tomsen has to go through the internal system of party courts before he can appeal to a regular, public court. And so the former and the present leader will spend at least a part of the election campaign in court(s). The lawyer for the current leadership has defended NPD politicians in the past and is himself a well-known right-winger.

#5 Factions. More factions

In the past, the “Patriotic Platform” has brought together the right-wingers amongst the right-wingers in the AfD. But apparently, the PP has become too pussy-footed by the standards of some of their leading lights. The blick nach rechts blog reports that some former members of the PP’s federal executive are setting up the “Free Patriotic Alternative”. Judean People’s Front vs People’s Front of Judea, anyone?

#6 Höcke

Speaking of the Patriotic Platform and right-wingers, Björn Höcke, the leader of the state party in Thuringia, is the most visible amongst the ultra-right within the party. In his speeches/performances, he borrows heavily from the ideas, vocabulary, and style of the Weimar Republic’s anti-democratic right. In the past, he came under fire when he claimed that “not each and every member of the [right-wing extremist] NPD was an extremist”. Then-party leader Bernd Lucke tried to expel Höcke, but failed. Colleague Andreas Kemper has made it his life’s ambition to demonstrate that Höcke has published racist dribble in an NPD party paper pseudonymously. He is probably right. Höcke also made waves (and came close to being kicked out of the party once more) when he gave speech at an extremist think tank where he referred to Africans as a “different species” which pursues “an expansive pro-creational strategy”.

His latest exploit was a speech in which he said that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin was shameful, and that Germany’s approach to its past was seriously misguided and hence required a complete turnaround. The speech was given on the 75th anniversary of the infamous “Wannsee Conference”, where the organisational groundwork for the Holocaust was laid. The national executive made a move to expel Höcke in January but in the end left it at a formal censure. Last Monday, after much toing and froing behind the scenes, a large majority voted to start a protracted process that could possibly, but not necessarily, end with Höcke’s departure from the party.

#7 The nationalist international

Pretzell is a member of the ENF group in the European Parliament. Although the AfD’s official policy is to keep their distance from other right-wing populist parties in Europe, Pretzell organised a (highly publicised) ENF meeting in the German city of Koblenz on January 21. Amongst the attendees were Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Matteo Salvini and (drumroll) Frauke Petry, who had not sought a consensus with other members of the executive. At least the German public perceived the conference as an AfD event. There were not too many happy faces seen on the executive board.

It’s not (just) about extremism. It is (also) about The Leader and her Lover vs The Rest

As a relatively young party, the AfD has many leaders and leaderlings, and since Lucke’s departure the public tends to perceive the party through the lenses of their respective personas (how is that for a mixed and convoluted metaphor?). Much of the ongoing conflict within the AfD is about ideology, or rather about the party’s general public image as “conservative-liberal”, “national-consersavtive”, right-wing populist or even right-wing extremist. But personalities, personal ambitions, and personal animosities are at least as important.

Petry was perceived as more radical than Lucke, yet representing something like a centrist position within the Lucke-less AfD. However, one important reason for ascendancy was that she seemed more willing to accept a modicum of collective leadership than Lucke – a perception that has now faded. Petry frequently tries to bypass the party structures. The party base, in turn, has denied her her wish to become the party’s sole “Spitzenkandidat” for the federal election.

Petry’s key ally is Pretzell, whom she married in December. Both are on record saying that refugees could be shot at the German border, which is not exactly the hallmark of a moderate. Pretzell was quick to blame the Berlin terror attack on refugees and Merkel, and Petry suggested that the word “völkisch” – the traditional self-description of German nationalists – should be seen as a positive term “again”. The last time this word had a positive connotation was during the Nazi era. Meuthen, who likes to give the impression that he is more liberal than Petry, failed to vet Gedeon before he was selected as a candidate. Meuthen also suggested that AfD MPs should not automatically vote against any proposal drafted by NPD in state parliaments, and voted against the motion to expel Höcke, whom he has supported on other occasions, too.

Four years after its inception, the AfD is still a very mixed bag of right-wingers, warring amongst each other for all sorts of reasons. And while I’m writing this, Der Tagesspiegel reports that not just his own people but also Alexander Gauland (another party heavy-weight and member of the national executive) and unspecified “supporters” are “urging” Höcke, the man under the gun, to run in the Bundestag election to challenge Petry. Höcke has previously ruled out any ambitions to leave Thuringia, but might now be tempted to stage a coup. I long to see how the politicking in the AfD will play out over the next seven months.

Jan 192017
 

Before Christmas, I had yet another chat with the journalist Yardena Schwartz, who covers Germany for various outlets in the US. Parts of our conversation re-surface in a piece she wrote for Politico on Germany’s Far Right:

She also published an article on how the Far Right tries to capitalise from the Berlin Christmas Market attack, again with a little bit of input from yours truly.

Jan 042017
 

The good folks over at the LSE (which, apart from running one of the most vibrant Political Science blogging sites on the planet also happens to host a university) have kindly asked me to look ahead at the likely outcome of the German Federal Election in September in general and the role of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in particular. I submitted my text early in December so that it could be published after Christmas. Following the terror attack on the Christmas market in Berlin, they offered me the opportunity to amend and slightly extend the text. I politely declined, because I thought that a horrific but fairly localised event such as this will not fundamentally affect the outcome of a still relatively distant election. I have been wrong before. Here is the link to the article on the EUROPP blog:

Dec 212016
 

I recently had a lengthy chat with Yardena Schwartz on the AfD’s significance for German politics, and their likely trajectory. One thing that came out of it is a CJR article on the (mis?)representation of the AfD and their voters in the German media. I don’t agree with everything she writes, but it is certainly an interesting read.

Nov 152016
 

ologit

This week, I had the opportunity to talk on the Nuffield Politics Seminar about my current project on citizens’s preferences on Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) and how they differ from what lawmakers decided. The feedback I got was amazing, though not always practical (“If you could go back in time and vary about 10 experimental conditions …”.

Here are the slides:

Nov 112016
 

I’m enormously flattered that the good people over at Nuffield College have invited me to their Political Science Seminar Series. I’m talking about a current project of mine that looks into the extent of the gap between citizens’ and legislators’ preferences on bioethical issues in general and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) in particular. Here is the abstract of my talk:

Given the country’s lack of a strong Catholic culture, extraordinarily high levels of medical expenditure, and the dominance of private-sector actors in the health market, the regulation of bioethical issues in Germany is surprisingly restrictive. Recent legislation on Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a case in point: Only under considerable external pressure and with a bare cross-partisan parliamentary majority did Germany move from a complete ban to a new set of rules that are still much more restrictive than those in Belgium or the UK.

An analysis of legislators’ preferences (Arzheimer 2015) suggests that comparatively high levels of religiosity as well as the existence of a ‘blue-green’ issue coalition is responsible for this restraint. Citizens, on the other hand, seemed to show higher levels of support for the new regime and perhaps even support for further liberalisation. Although PGD is currently a niche issue, the existence of such a representational gap demands scholarly and political attention, because the ethical issues associated with Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and other advanced medical techniques will become more and more salient in Western societies in the coming years.

In my talk, I will present first findings from a large-scale survey experiments that looks into the preferences of the general public on PGD and a number of similar issues. More specifically, I investigate four inter-related questions:

1) Is there indeed a sizeable gap between MPs’ and citizens’ preferences on PGD?

2) Would citizens support a further liberalisation of the PGD regime?

3) Are citizens’ preferences shaped by the same determinants as those of their MPs?

4) Can the gap between citizens and MPs be narrowed by making citizens reflect on arguments from a parliamentary debate?

 

Slides to follow at some point are here.

Photo by janetmck

Nov 102016
 

The right-wing website Breitbart, one of the key allies of the Trump campaign, has told Reuters (link to the article is below) that they want to expand their network to include sites for France and Germany. Breitbart already has a site in the UK, which was an important part of the pro-Brexit network. Allegedly, they have begun hiring staff, so they must think that there is a market for their kind of journalism in these two countries. Goddess help us all.

Nov 082016
 

The ‘s leadership is highly fragmented. Regional figures play an important role for the ideology and image of the party. The national executive has not one, but two party chairs. While Frauke Petry is the more prominent and visibly of the two, co-leader Jörg Meuthen, an academic economist, has long refused to be sidelined in the struggle for power within the party.

For months, Meuthen has declined to rule out that he would stand as Spitzenkandidat for his party in the upcoming 2017 Bundestag election. But yesterday, he finally announced that he wants to keep his seat in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament. Of course, there is a barb: Meuthen also said that someone else could be Petry’s co-Spitzenkandidat.

Source: Jörg Meuthen: AfD-Chef will nicht in den Bundestag

Sep 162016
 

The good folks over at CEMES are running a lecture series on the “New Political Right in Continental Europe“. What’s even better: they have kindly invited me to talk about Germany. Here is the abstract of my presentation:german-far-right-copenhagen-0

For decades, Germany has been a tough ground for the Radical Right. Support for right-wing parties such as the DVU, NPD, or REP was inconsistent and mostly confined to the local and regional levels, chiefly because these parties remained tied to National Socialism, rendering them unpalatable to (most) voters. This has changed with the rise of the new “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), which, in September 2013, only months after its inception, came tantalisingly close to the five-percent threshold in the 2013 General election. Since then, the AfD has entered ten state parliaments and seems firmly on its way to become a national political force that will, at a minimum, make coalition formation much more difficult. This talk aims at giving an overview of the party, its relationship with the wider right-wing sector in Germany, and its position vis-a-vis other Radical Right parties in Europe.

Update: Slides are now available for viewing/download