Blog posts on the Alternative for Germany (AfD)

The Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD for short) is a populist radical right party in Germany.

Back in 2015, I published an article in which I argue that the AfD was then not yet a populist radical right party. More recently, I have demonstrated how how Alternative for Germany and their voters have changed from 2013-2017. Now, both fit very comfortably into the radical-right template. In yet another contribution, I show how the AfD differs from older extreme right parties in Germany, and how the AfD's rise has affected the Germany polity. I also have an article in German on the competition between Alternative for Germany and the LEFT party for the eastern German vote<. And finally, here is a paper on a href="">why the AfD is much more successful in the East.

The Extreme/Radical Right in Europe is one of my main research interests, and for many years, there had been no (successful) party in Germany to occupy this particular place in the political spectrum. This makes the AfD's rise particularly intriguing for me. Besides writing long-form articles on the party and their voters, I also blog (too much) about them. Here are my most recent posts.

Aug 032021

Mit Stefanie Witte habe ich über das (oft unparlamentarische) Verhalten der AfD im Bundestag und den Landtagen und die Reaktionen der anderen Parteien gesprochen. Der Artikel ist in der Schweriner Volkszeitung und verschiedenen anderen Zeitungen erschienen, ist aber anscheinend überall hinter einer Paywall verborgen.

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Jun 242021
A guide to Alternative for Germany's donation scandals 1

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 142021

The gamification of our personal and professional lives is a terrible idea. Elsevier is evil. More generally, the current model of academic publishing is unsustainable. And I’m a very happy chappy this afternoon. All these statements can be (and indeed are) simultaneously true.

Our article on the changing electorate of the AfD is currently the most cited recent article in Electoral Studies
Achim Goerres just sent me this little gem, which makes my Friday.

So our article on the changing motives of people voting for the AfD during a period in which the AfD radicalised quite a bit has been frequently cited (about 30 times) over the last months. Yay us!

Obviously, the 2018-2021 window is totally arbitrary. Also, comparing an article to others published in the same journal makes kind of sense (they should be, well, comparable), but the group of all Political Science articles published in the same year (or quarter) would probably be a more useful point of reference. Moreover, German universities are still sort-of-boycotting Elsevier, so I feel mildly bad about publishing with them. Plus we could not benefit from the DEAL agreements that would have waived the fees for going Open Access, because there is still no DEAL with evil Elsevier.

But hey, this article is one of my favourite children. It was a long time in the making. I’m happy that it finally found a good home at Electoral Studies, and I’m even happier that people read and cite it. 30 cites within 20 months is not bad for a piece published in a specialist journal. Eat your heart out, More General Interest Journal That Rejected Its Previous Incarnation.

And while it would have been great to publish it as Open Access, the very similar pre-print is still available for your perusal: How the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and their voters veered to the radical right, 2013-2017.

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
Mar 042021

What just happened

Yesterday, it was leaked that Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (the domestic intelligence agency) “suspects” the AfD might be a right-wing extremist organisation that aims to undermine democracy in Germany . Forming this suspicion is an internal process (the agency is under a gagging order and has not commented on the reports) has technical-legally consequences: the office may now infiltrate the AfD, or tap their computers and telephones.

So, a German government agency may be infiltrating a largish opposition party. You may have questions that would warrant a lengthy blog post. But there are many other things to do. The easy way out is to copy and paste some of the questions I was asked yesterday by journalists along with the answers I gave them.

Almost an interview

How do you describe the Alternative for Germany party? How many factions exist inside the party?

Two main camps exist within the party: one group is very much akin to other European radical right-win populist parties. They are staunchly anti-immigrant and have a narrow, illiberal concept of democracy. The other, even more radical camp maintains ties to extremist (i.e. openly anti-democractic) actors and organisations and used to operate under the name of the “wing”. There used to be a third group that was economically liberal and softly eurosceptic, but most of them have left the party over the last years.

Why did the security services decide to put the entire AfD under surveillance at this moment and not before? There has been a radicalisation in AfD in the last months?

There was a de facto split of the party back in 2015, when about ten per cent of the more moderate members left the AfD. Subsequently, the party became more and more radical. The security services began to investigate sub-organisations (its youth organisation and the “wing”) in 2019. They made it clear that they might eventually put the whole party under surveillance as a result of their findings.

This is a year of federal and state elections. Can the decision be seen as politically motivated?

The services are in an unenviable position. On the one hand, the closer we get to the election in September, the greater the danger that this move is seen as political interference. On the other hand, they have to make absolutely sure that they have enough preliminary evidence to put the AfD under surveillance, because the party will fight this decision in the courts.

How do you assess this decision?Placing the entire party under surveillance is a sensitive decision. Do you think it is justified and what effect it might have on politics in Germany?

The decision is momentous: the Office can now (but are not required to) employ a whole range of clandestine measures to collect further information on right-wing extremists within the AfD. In my view, this is, however, justified. Journalists and scientists have uncovered a whole host of links between the AfD and openly extremist actors. The authorities would be derelict in their duties if they did not take a closer look. Moreover, this enhanced surveillance is subject to judicial review, and the AfD has already announced that they would go to court. It is also important to note that treating the party as “suspicious” is an important but intermediate step: the Office will review the information that it garners and may or may not officially classify the party as extremist in their annual reports.

What political consequences can surveillance have for the party?

Putting the AfD under surveillance may induce some members (especially those employed in the public sector, i.e. teachers and members of the police) to leave the party.

Issues of privacy and political freedom aside, knowing that the party as a whole is of interest to the secret service will further stigmatise the AfD in the eyes of large segments of the public. Whether this has political consequences is a matter of debate, because a vast majority (about 80 per cent, according to a Politbarometer poll from November 2019) is already convinced that the AfD is an extremist party that they would never vote for. It is important to note that the AfD has lost some electoral support since 2016 (see the graph below). This is partly as a consequence of increasing awareness of their radicalisation.

Graph showing electoral support for the AfD by region (east vs west) and level
Source: official results; Politbarometer & Deutschlandtrend polls

Source: official results; Politbarometer & Deutschlandtrend polls. This graph is taken from a working paper on the electoral breakthrough of the AfD and the east-west cleavage in German politics

This decision could lead to a legal disbanding of the party?

Even if the party would be classified as extremist eventually, this would not necessarily lead to a ban. German parties enjoy a very high degree of legal protection and can only be banned by a super majority in the supreme court. Even the NPD, a much clearer case of a right-wing extremist party, survived two attempts to ban them.

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Dec 082020

Das Handelsblatt hat mit dem Kollegen Niedermayer und mir über die Koalitionskrise in Sachsen-Anhalt, den Kurs der Landes-CDU gegenüber der AfD und den fehlenden Einfluss der Bundes-CDU auf die Situation gesprochen.

Streit um Rundfunkbeitrag: Regierungskrise in Magdeburg: Ministerpräsident Haseloff entlässt Innenminister Stahlknecht

Streit um Rundfunkbeitrag: Regierungskrise in Magdeburg: Ministerpräsident Haseloff entlässt Innenminister StahlknechtIn Sachsen-Anhalt hat der Streit in der Koalition aus CDU, SPD und Grünen zu Rissen in der Union geführt. Holger Stahlknecht tritt auch als CDU-Landeschef zurü WWW.HANDELSBLATT.COM

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Sep 052020

When Lucke and his supporters left the AfD in 2015, they founded a new party called ALFA. Because another group with a similar name already existed, they had to change it to LKR, which stands for liberal-conservative reformers.

This label neatly encapsulates Lucke’s vision for the AfD. It’s a brand that helped him to establish his former party in an environment that would have been hostile to a more obviously radical right party. It is also a product for which there is little demand at the moment.

👉 Read more about this: “Don’t mention the war

In the 2019 EP election, a free-for-all for political misfits with no legal electoral threshold, the party polled a cool 0.1 per cent. They have no state-level MPs, no relevant membership base, and, in my professional opinion, no future. And Lucke himself has retired from politics.

But thanks to yet another defection from the AfD’s parliamentary party in the Bundestag (the sixth, I think), the LKR now have a single MP for the remainder of this parliament (about 12 months). This brings the number of parties in parliament back to eight. It’s back to eight, because a much more prominent former AfD MP, former leader Frauke Petry, had also set up a party of their own after the 2017 election. But Petry’s Blue Party is no more.

Nothing of this matters. Petry never managed to poach enough MPs from the AfD to form a parliamentary party (I think she gained a single follower). The new LKR MP will not even bother trying. I wonder whether he, or in fact anyone in the LKR, thinks that they will be able to run a serious campaign next year, let alone win seats. “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure.”

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