Strife within the AfD
In my recent West European Politics Article on the AfD (ungated pre-print still here), I argue that the party’s official position (i.e. their EP 2014 manifesto, their website and their social media activities) is soft-eurosceptic and not right-wing populist: For them, the enemy is Athens and the profligacy of the Greeks, not Islam, Turkey, or the Roma. I also argue that this official party line is very much shaped by party co-founder and co-chair Bernd Lucke, and that others disagree, not least because many AfD voters are (or were) not particularly concerned about the Euro and orthodox economics, but very much in favour of restrictions on immigration.
Like any new party, the AfD is made up of various groups, wings, and tendencies. Christian fundamentalists mingle with economic liberals; disappointed conservative Christian democrats mix with former members of Germany’s extreme right parties (although the AfD tries to enforce a ban on those). A year or so ago, we used to talk about “liberals”, “conservatives”, and a third faction in the middle which tried to build bridges. But now, we’re apparently down to two “wings”: Lucke’s economic liberals (who are also socially conservative), and those who want a tougher, more nationalist party. Incidentally, this split seems to be reinforced by an East-West conflict within the AfD, with the electorally successful Eastern chapters more inclined to play the right-wing populist card.
The AfD Putsch: State of Play
A week ago, the state party in Thuringia drew up the “Erfurter Resolution”, a manifesto that aims to drum up support for a more nationalist orientation of the party. So far, they have collected more than 1,500 signature by party members (the total number is about 21,000), and roughly the same number of “likes” on Facebook. The latter figure seems a bit disappointing, and Facebook’s statistics actually show a rapidly falling rate of new likes. Why the right-wingers chose to call themselves “der Flügel” (the wing, or tendency) when they claim to speak for the centre of the party is anyone’s guess. Once, more, it must have been Amateur Night in Erfurt.
Counterstrike: The “Germany Resolution”
On Wednesday, Arch-Economic Liberal (TM) Hans-Olaf Henkel and three of his MEP colleagues have published another manifesto, the “Deutschland-Resolution” (“Germany Resolution”), which calls for unity, but attacks the Erfurt Manifesto. This is much cleverer framing, as “Germany” embodies unity and refers to the party name. But for all purposes and intents, we are now looking at two wings clustered around two manifestos, with the letter apparently being less popular (just 388 likes so far). They haven’t published anything on the number of signatories yet.
A split in the AfD in Thuringia
But the who could be more relevant than the how many in this case, and the short list Henkel and friends have put online is interesting for two reasons: First, there is a number of second-tier party functionaries from the West, further hinting at a regional split, and second, there are the signatures of three state-level MPs for the AfD from Thuringia, who were expected to sign the Erfurt declaration last week, but did not. That means that the AfD delegation in the Thuringia state parliament is effectively split down the middle.
Commercial Break: And Then, There is Always Marcus Pretzell
In my article, I have singled out Marcus Pretzell, another AfD MEP, as a representative of the more right-wing populist wing. He rose to prominence (well, amongst us spotters) when – against Lucke’s express wishes – he invited Nigel Farage to address the party faithful. Now Pretzell, a lawyer and property developer, is making headlines again, because he owes the tax man a lot of money. Apparently, Pretzell would not answer the increasingly urgent letters, and the Man could not find Pretzell at his address, so the authorities decided to dock some money from the AfD’s account (Pretzell is also state party chair in North Rhine-Westphalia). While the monies have been returned to the AfD, and while this could eventually reduce Pretzell’s role as a troublemaker, it is not exactly great publicity for the party and may, as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung shrewdly observes, mess up their credit rating for ages.
Meanwhile, Bernd Lucke has signed neither declaration, which seems wise. Frauke Petry, currently his co-chair and his most plausible competitor for the future single leadership post, is biding here time, too. I don’t think that this is the beginning of the end for the AfD, but the tensions have become much more visible in recent months, and a split of the party is beginning to look like a distinct possibility. Of course, rifts in the AfD are nothing new, but so far, they were framed as clashes between personalities, or as conflict over the future structure of the party (read: power struggles). The public debate about conflicting manifestos and the ideologies they represent may mark the point at which voters begin to wonder what the party actually stands for.