In 2016, Germany’s “Office for the Protection of the Constitution”, a.k.a. the spooks, put the German branch of the Identitarian Movement under surveillance. They are also listed in the Office’s yearly reports under the heading “right-wing extremist actors”.
Germany being Germany, the IB in this country is organised as a registered association, which has taken the spooks to court over this issue. Because that, boys and girls, is the beauty of the rule of law: alleged enemies of the constitution can still sue the secret service over said allegation.
But the court (here: the local administrative court at Cologne, where the Office is based) has now decided that the Office was well within its rights, because the IB’s idea of an “ethno-cultural identity” is incompatible with the liberal-democratic principles of the Basic Law. Word, man.
The IB may still appeal against the ruling. More rule of law my follow. Here is a more detailed report (in German).
Lower Saxony just held the last of 2022’s four state elections. The result is mostly in line with the pre-election surveys: both the SPD and the CDU (which in this state formed the last remaining Grand coalition) lost a few points, but the SPD remained stronger overall and is perceived as the winner. The Left stood no chance, and the FDP may or may not have made it past the threshold. The Greens nearly (but not quite) doubled their result, and so did the AfD (compare the two artisanal blue circles in the graph).
To put this into perspective, the levels of infighting in the state party are spectacular even by AfD standards. In 2017, the party nearly failed to submit a slate of candidates and managed to get the prosecution service involved in their altercations with the authorities and amongst each others. The AfD eventually scraped past the threshold, but the party executive collapsed on election night. Subsequently, warring factions tried to organise separate party conferences in different locations. In the end, the federal leadership stepped in and appointed an acting state party executive, which unsurprisingly found (amongst other things) that money was missing from the bank. In 2020, three of the state MPs including the 2017 frontrunner candidate left the parliamentary party, which was subsequently dissolved. The 2021 and 2022 party conferences ended prematurely and in disarray.
And yet, the AfD just managed to get their best result in any western state since 2018 (compare this to the lousy results in North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein earlier this year). Even if the AfD in Lower Saxony has managed to set their house in order, this is unlikely to be the result of better discipline and stronger candidates alone. It rather points to some kind of recovery in national support that follows a long period of decline and stagnation, which set in even before Covid.
Grievances do not simply translate into far-right support – it’s usually a bit more nuanced than that. And yet, a vote share of 11 per cent in Lower Saxony suggests that the AfD must be benefitting from renewed worries about migration triggered by the war, alongside the new-ish worries about the war itself, about energy security, and about inflation. Whether this is temporary or whether the party will do well in the next round of western state elections (Bremen in May and Bavaria and Hesse later in 2023) remains to be seen.
Germany went to the polls a year ago, although it feels more like a decade now. The new government was sworn in less than ten months ago on December 8. It had what must have been one of the roughest starts in the history of the Federal Republic, what with the ongoing pandemic, the war, the energy and cost of living crises and the ongoing climate crisis.
The incoming three-party coalition billed itself as an alliance for progress, which was a shrewd move: analyses of their respective manifestos by Marc Debus over at Mannheim show that they broadly agree on social-cultural issues but diverge on economic and fiscal policies.
Even in a more forgiving environment, this was bound to lead to conflicts within the coalition eventually. Under the current conditions, it helps to explain why two of the coalition’s leading men – Christian Lindner of the FDP and Robert Habeck of the Greens – are doing their best to block and outmanoeuvre each other, which in turn contributes to the government’s slide in the polls.
That brings me to this gem. One of the government’s most popular policies so far was the so-called 9-Euro-ticket, which gave access to all local and regional forms of public transport, anywhere in Germany, for a whole month, for the price of a takeaway pizza. This (wildly successful but sadly temporary) measure was the brainchild of the Greens. In return, the FDP got a temporary rebate on petrol and fuel. The former was more popular than the latter, and a broad coalition of civil society actors campaigned for an extension of the offer beyond August, pointing out that very affordable public transport is not just good for the environment but also a boon for the less well off – not exactly the electorate of the FDP, by the way..
Lindner (who is not only the minister for finance and the leader of Germany’s most pro-business party but also somewhat of a Porsche aficionado) nixed this idea, not just because he wants to go back to balanced budgets and is unwilling to save some money by, say, building fewer motorways, but also because he saw a “free lunch mentality” behind the proposal.
Yes, he said it like that, and this resulted in considerable backlash, but mostly from people who wouldn’t vote FDP anyway. Some, however, turned their anger into art. The poster, which popped up at my local commuter rail station, closely resembles the design that the FDP has used in their recent campaigns, including the large black-and-white picture of Lindner. The caption paraphrases Marie Antoinette: “No money for a ticket? Let them drive a Porsche”. But ours is a peaceful town, so his neck is safe for now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Sum of squared differences
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.
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?
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.
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.