Jun 182022
 

Earlier this year, Jörg Meuthen resigned from his post as co-leader of the AfD and, like two of his predecessors, also left the party. Meuthen, an academic economist, had become a co-leader in 2015 following Lucke’s ouster and had been billed as a representative of the AfD’s ‘moderate’, economically liberal and fiscally conservative faction. Like Petry (Petry does a Lucke, or: The AfD splits again (whimper edition), he had the tacit support of the party’s radicals lead by Höcke. Meuthen subsequently attended meetings of the radicals and was quite friendly with them. Only when parts of the party came under surveillance did he try (largely in vain) to kick (some of) them out of the party.

Meuthen’s departure left Chrupalla, the remaining co-leader, in charge. As far as I know, he has never been a member of the infamous ‘wing’ group, but he certainly has the support of many radicals and Easterners (there is a certain overlap). His leadership can best be described as unremarkable. Over the last months, Chrupalla has come under some pressure, mostly from the remaining ‘moderates’ who blame him for the party’s dwindling electoral support. While I think that there are structural reasons for this decline, he is most certainly not an electoral asset.

No Putsch in the #AfD 1
The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

Before the party conference, Chrupalla came under even more pressure from both macro factions of the party. While one (little known) ‘moderate’ announced that he would run for the position vacated by Meuthen, another (even lesser known) challenged Chrupalla directly, though that always looked like a very long shot. Much more ominous was that Höcke suggested to reduce the number of leaders to one and also hinted that he could finally ‘join the national executive’. While a straight run for the leadership by Höcke was always unlikely, Chrupalla would have struggled to find sufficient support to secure a sole leadership post.

No Putsch in the #AfD 2
Bernd Höcke. Based on work by Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

In the end, not much happened. The party conference did change the constitution and introduced sole leadership as an option for the future, but at the same time, the delegates decided to elect two leaders this time round. Höcke pushed for both motions and so remains in his favourite role as the party’s eminence grise (or bête noire?). Chrupalla was re-elected – with a lousy 53 per cent of the vote. He is joined by Alice Weidel, who already co-leads the parliamentary party with him.

While this might look like a consolidation of power, it is nothing of this sort. Höcke will remain both influential and unaccountable. He may or may not reach for the sole leadership in a couple of years. Weidel got 67 per cent, hardly a ringing endorsement. Both she and Chrupalla are moderately unpopular within their party – people without qualities, apart from being halfway acceptable to the various factions. They are weak leaders, not by accident but by design. Alongside its dual leadership structure (an organisational feature otherwise only found in Germany’s leftist parties), the AfD retains its commitment to high levels of intra-party democracy anarchy.

May 162022
 
Putsch in the AfD?

The AfD is not exactly in free fall, but the party is not doing well. In January, their former co-leader Meuthen threw in the towel. Meuthen had been the most prominent of the self-styled moderates and had aimed to improve the party’s optics by pushing back against the most visible right-wing extremist tendencies within the AfD.

In March, the party scraped past the threshold in the Saarland regional election. Just before the election, two of their three MPs tried to kick the the third one out of the party. Two of the three party memberships involved are currently pending while the national party tries to sort out the mess.

In last week’s state election in Schleswig-Holstein, the AfD remained below the threshold. It was the first time in any election they have contested since 2013. Yesterday, they narrowly escaped the same fate in NRW, winning just 5.4% of the list vote.

These latest results did not come out of the blue. Nationally, support for the party has been more or less static since about 2019. Subnationally, the East-West gap is well-documented. But there is also a North-South gradient that I do not understand very well: previous results in northern states have already been been kind of meh, but now the party has lost the momentum that carried it through the second half of the 2010s. The allegedly unstoppable rise-and-rise may well be beyond its peak.

Another bun-fight in the AfD 3
The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

Against this backdrop and given his very complacent attitude, it is hardly surprising that Tino Chrupalla, the remaining co-leader, has come under fire today. Chrupalla rose to power in 2019 with the not-so-tacit support of the most radical forces within the party. He also represents (and there is some overlap) the particularly successful eastern chapters of the AfD. If one should describe his stewardship of the party with a single word, it would have to be ‘hapless’.

And this is what some members of the national executive did today, though they did it in more words. For them, Chrupalla represents ‘the end of the AfD’s success story’ and must not be allowed to stand again as party leader.

Chrupalla’s counter attack was Michael-Gove-level bizarre: he likened his critics to campers complaining about humidity whilst peeing inside the tent. Mixed metaphors, anyone?

As of tonight, no other members of the leadership have rushed to Chrupalla’s defence. Again, this is not surprising. Backstabbing and a certain level of anarchy are the norm in the AfD, and Chrupalla has always been an odd compromise candidate, some sort of placeholder, not a leader per se.

Nonetheless, Chrupalla says he wants to fight for his job at the party conference next month. There are also rumours that the Meuthen’s bête noire, Björn Höcke, could run for a seat on the executive or even for the leadership, which could split the party and/or confine them to the East. All or nothing of this might come to pass. The one thing I’m sure of is that the infighting will go on.

Oct 042021
 

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the ur-podcast must have been two blokes in the pub going on about politics for hours. Thankfully, the format has evolved somewhat. So if you are interested in German Politics, why not listen to Cas Mudde and me discussing the 2021 elections in just over 30 minutes?

I was much younger in this photo. He probably found it in a museum.

Sep 252021
 
In less than 43 hours, polling stations in Germany will close. The idea that the CDU/CSU is building momentum and could catch up with the SPD has been a conservative talking point for the last week or so. And right on cue, Allensbach has published a poll today that sees the SPD’s lead reduced to a single percentage point.

Over on twitter, people have been quite disparaging, pointing out that Allensbach has been perceived as close to the Christian Democrats for decades, uses methods that are now seen as outmoded, and considerably overestimated support for the CDU/CSU in 2017. While I tend to agree, I thought I might as well pass the time by having a look at how well the major pollsters did in 2017 using, you know, actual data.

For multi-party elections, the sum of squared differences between a pre-election poll and the final vote shares is a crude but intuitively plausible measure of accuracy. Thankfully, the good folks over at wahlrecht.de collect headline findings from the major houses going back all the way to the late 1990s. So I plugged the last surveys published immediately before the 2017 election into this shiny table and calculated the differences.

CDU/CSU SPD Greens FDP Left AfD Others Sum of squared differences
BTW 2017 32.9 20.5 8.9 10.7 9.2 12.6 4
Insa 34 21 8 9 11 13 4 8.56
Kantar/Emnid 35 22 8 9 10 11 5 14.56
FGW 36 21.5 8 10 8.5 11 5 15.96
Allensbach 36 22 8 10.5 9.5 10 4 19.56
Forsa 36 22 7 9.5 9.5 11 5 20.56
Infratest 37 20 7.5 9.5 9 12 5 21.86
GMS 37 22 8 9 9 10 5 30.56
YouGov 36 23 7 9 10 10 5 30.76

The numbers are not quite what I expected. Kantar/Emnid and FGW, who have been in the business for ages, are placed second and third with very similar deviations from the result. Fellow household names Allensbach, Forsa, and Infratest form a second, slightly worse performing but very homogeneous cluster. GMS and YouGov, on the other hand, were most (and similarly) off.

The best performer, and this is the surprising part, was INSA, who are, let’s say, are slightly less respected for both political and methodological reasons. According to wahlrecht.de, their final poll in 2017 was published on September 22, just two days before the election, with the data being collected on September 21/22. So it could be that they were simply interviewing closer to the event than the others and picked up some last minute swing away from the Christian Democrats. Or perhaps they were just lucky.

Coming back to Allensbach, the table shows that everyone overestimated the CDU/CSU (herding, anyone?), and that Allensbach was by no means an outlier. So if past (squared) performance can serve as a guide for the present, there is no particular reason to rubbish this latest Allensbach poll.

Sep 172021
 

Everyone who cares about German elections is very excited by now, because it’s just over a week until election day. And I realise that I have not blogged about this election at all. One reason is that I have not set up a poll aggregator this time round. There are enough better-run sites doing this now, and so I have taken all my polling enthusiasm straight to twitter. The other reason is that there is still a pandemic, and that there are so many other things to do.

But right on the campaign’s homestretch, I have discovered a whole (rather long and reasonably affluent) street covered in MLPD posters. “What, in the name of all that is unholy, is the MLPD?” I hear you cry.

The MLPD, or Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany, is the ultimate splinter party. It came into being in 1982 as the successor of the Communist Worker Association (KABD), itself the result of the 1972 merger of the KAB/ML and the KPD/ML-Revolutionary Path. The latter had been a breakaway from the KPD/ML, which in turn was a tiny Maoist party that moved on to the Albanian brand of communism. Somewhere along the way, some players had been expelled from the old Communist party (the KPD), which by then must have been illegal for a decade or so. Are you still with me?

MLDP Poster International Solidarity

Wait, what? I know that guy!

The MLPD, however, is still enamoured to Maoism and rejects the post-1950s Soviet Union as revisionist. According to the annual reports of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the MLPD is a left-wing extremist organisation. It is also surprisingly wealthy (thanks to some large donations), and sometimes successful in local politics in unexpected places (Swabian towns? Come on!), where it works with local groups to form lists with less offending names.

For the last couple of federal elections, it has formed an alliance (the internationalist list they put on the posters) with like-minded foreign organisations that have a presence in Germany. In 2017, they won just under 30,000 of the PR votes, equivalent to 0.1 per cent. Historically, that was an excellent result: they used to get about 0.01 per cent of the vote. According to the Office, the MLPD has 2,800 members, and one must really wonder what motivates them. Various colleagues have pointed out that the party looks and operates like a (political) sect.

MLDP Poster Environment Pensions

Save the environment by working less. Or something along those lines.

However tenuous, there is a bit of personal connection, too. Back in 1982, when the FDP changed sides, removed my hero Helmut Schmidt, and made Kohl Chancellor, I was outraged (and all of 13 years old). When Kohl manufactured a lost vote of confidence that winter so that he could get the 1983 election, I was earnestly listening to experts who claimed that this move was slick, but unconstitutional. The President and then the Constitutional Court disagreed. When Kohl then ran again in 1987 I would have loved to vote against him, but I was three weeks too young.

So my first chance to express my general dissatisfaction came with the 1989 European Election. Also, I was doing national service. That meant that I had a lot of spare time that I used for reading campaign materials, watch the party broadcasts, and think about how to best invest my shiny new vote. Everyone I talked to thought that the EP was as second order as it gets, and that one could and should freely experiment. So for a time, I toyed with the idea of sticking it to the man by voting for something seriously, hardcore left, like, you know, these MLPD chaps. This wonderful clip finally helped me make up my mind.

 
Europawahl 1989 - Wahlwerbespot MLPD

Watch this video on YouTube.
Jun 242021
 
A guide to Alternative for Germany's donation scandals 5

Update June 24, 2021

German prosecutors have asked the European Parliament to lift Meuthen’s immunity. In other words, the co-leader of the self-styled law-and-order party has become the object of a criminal investigation.

Update April 19, 2019

The prosecutor for Berlin is investigating the AfD’s treasurer over support the party received from the association-for-whatnot (see #6 below). Printing and distributing newspapers that are essentially campaign material amounts to making a donation, the prosecutor thinks – a donation that the party failed to declare in two consecutive years. The services donated were worth a “low six-digit figure”.

Update April 16, 2019

The Bundestag’s central administration, which is charge of state funding for parties, has ordered the AfD to pay a fine of €402,900, i.e. three times the value of the services received by Meuthen (see point #3 below) and Reil (point #5). It is likely that the party will also be fined over the donations to Weidel. The AfD had set aside a million Euros to cover for fines.

What is the matter with Alternative for Germany’s finances?

Just in time for the upcoming European elections, new details on Alternative for Germany’s donation scandals emerge. Yes, scandals is in the plural, and the wailing sound in the background is the of “fake news!” from the party’s faithful. So what is the matter?

The AfD loves to talk about the “Altparteien” (the old parties, i.e. the establishment, the spent forces etc.). This is in itself a nice show of political mimicry: “Altparteien” is what the Greens used to call the trinity of Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and Liberals, when they rose as a radical alternative to politics as usual in the 1990s.

Money and the AfD

Follow the money

In the 1980s and 1990s, the latter two parties executed bypassing rules on party financing to near-perfection. As a reaction to this, rules for transparency have been somewhat tightened, and more importantly, enforcement has become a bit stricter.

Now the “Alternative” has taken a whole bunch of leaves from the old parties’ playbook. For your edification and because I’m losing track, here is a list of the top-seven financial scandals in which the party is currently involved.

7 8 financial scandals in which Alternative for Germany is currently involved

  1. Alice Weidel, the co-leader of the AfD’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag, is under investigation for receiving 150,000 Euros in 18 neat tranches from a company in Switzerland, which would be illegal under German law. Extraordinarily, the company claims that they merely provided a facade for illegal cash flows originating in Germany. As you do. Both Swiss and German authorities are on the case.
  2. Under a similar scheme, the AfD state party in North Rhine-Westphalia has received about 50,000 Euros from a dubious Dutch foundation. The party claims that they have returned the money later but failed to inform the authorities within the prescribed time-frame.
  3. There is another Swiss connection, involving co-leader and Spitzenkandidat for the EP election Jörg Meuthen. Back in 2016, “Goal”, a Swiss agency, has provided advertisements, flyers, design, and whatnot worth a cool 90,000 Euros. Meuthen claims that he only gave permission to use his likeness and was in no way part of the advertising campaign, which was paid for by 10 benefactors. In other words: no collusion.
  4. Last year, Meuthen finally presented a list of the alleged benefactors. This week, at least two of these have now come out claiming that they did not give any money but rather accepted a 1,000 Euro bribe for their name to appear on the official record.
  5. The AfD’s number two for the EP election, Guido Reil, also benefitted from services provided by “Goal” worth 50,000 Euros. The prosecution service has opened an investigation this week. Bummer.
  6. Then there is the long-running story of an obscure “association for the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties”, which has spent big time on advertising for the “Alternative” but claims to be independent of the party. If co-ordination between the organisation can be proven, the AfD would be fined heavily. It goes without saying that the association is also connected to “Goal”.
  7. Finally, it has emerged that Alexander Gauland is being investigated over his tax returns. While there is no Swiss connection and while this is primarily a private, not a party matter, it nicely caps of the list.
  8. Update: On March 28 2019, it emerged that Weidel seems to have received money from the same group of straw donors.

It is not easy running a law & order party. Especially the “law” part seems to be very tricky. Stay tuned.

May 292021
 

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that our devices are spying on us. I’m old enough to remember the bout of German Angst over the 1984(!) census, and the moral panic about bringing computers into our homes. A mere three decades down the line, my phone is constantly tracking my movements, pulse, and exact position. It knows what I read, with whom I interact, what I listen to, what I order, and where I’d rather be – all in a bid to serve me targeted ads. Amazon, Facebook, Google as well as many other players have models of me, which they update in realtime. Cue Cambridge Analytica and all that jazz.

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 6

So it fills me with great joy to see the algorithms cock up every once in a while. It began in 2019, when some machine decided to personalise the commercials which interrupt the podcasts that I’m listening to. Generic messages about products and services that I’m not interested in were replaced by ever more frantic appeals to “get ready for Brexit” (that was before the buffoon got Brexit done™, obviously). The mildly funny thing is that HMG and their algos could not decide whether I was a bloody European living in the UK, whom they should grudgingly urge to apply for settled status, or a brave expat about to get stuck with the huns.

Once the UK left for good and the pandemic kicked in, the podcast ads subsided. But then, over the last six months or so, the algorithms came up with a new image of me. They were now sure that I was a Brit trapped on the continent and began sending promoted content to my twitter feed. Stuff like this video (sorry, I only got a still)

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 7
That guy is living the dream

Going by its content, it would seem that I’m a senior British person hellbent on getting the Krankenkasse to sponsor his hip replacement. Compared to this work of art, the following post was utterly generic and so boring that I did not click a single time.

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 8

I liked hip man much better, and he kept reappearing in my feed, first only on twitter, then also on Facebook. But the novelty wore off, and I stopped clicking. And so, after a hiatus, the powers that be modified their model of me and decided that I was more interested in driving than in walking and needed to get my licence exchanged.

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 9
I’m slightly younger now

Being already in possession of a German driving licence, I did not react. Which is why the machines that watch over us changed tack again. Today, my alter ego became younger, female, and moved to somewhat edgier surroundings.

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 10
So this one appeared in my Facebook feed

And the volume went up. A few minutes later, the same add popped up again on a different device

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 11

It is kind of heartwarming that the same government that is turning the UK into a hostile environment for my fellow Europeans is caring so much about my wellbeing over here. Also, they keep watching me, and advertising on social is dirt cheap. That’s why I’m already looking forward to what will come next.

Mar 202021
 
Oh joy, oh fun: looks like the AfD is going to kick off the national campaign with another leadership battle. Will probably come to naught, but might be entertaining nonetheless