Yesterday’s German elections sent shockwaves through the European Union as the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party managed to secure 13% of the vote and at least 90 seats in the Bundestag. It is the first time since the 60s that an openly rightist party has made such gains.
The election was won by sitting Chancellor Angela Merkel, albeit with a vastly reduced vote share. She will begin the process of forming a coalition of like-minded parties, but has made it clear that the AfD will have no part in her government. When asked if the AfD will have any impact on policy in any way, Merkel replied, “I don’t think so.” She continued:
“The parties that are capable of forming coalitions with each other will seek solutions there are of course differences … but AfD will have no influence.”
The AfD is an openly nationalist party that advocates for strong border control, more power being returned from the European Union, a smarter fiscal policy with free markets at the peak, and a strengthening of traditional German values in the face of “increased Islamification.”
Since 2013, the party has been under intense media scrutiny for attracting “racist elements,” and while the group has made efforts to remove people from their party and demonstrations who hold extreme views, it is a tar that has stuck.
Co-leader of the AfD, Frauke Petry has announced that she will not be “sitting with the AfD” in the Bundestag, but will instead serve her Saxony constituency as an independent member of Parliament. This is a severe blow to the leadership and one that seems to have surprised them as much as the press. It is no secret that Petry was unhappy with the more aggressively anti-government stance of her party, and wanted to try and “temper rhetoric” with an aim of being able to join a coalition government.
The European media are concerned that the German elections gains for the AfD are the continuation of a trend of rising populism across the continent. The Guardian newspaper writes that:
“…while populist radical-right parties peaked in the polls in 2016, at the height of the hysteria over the ‘refugee crisis’, their election results in 2017 are still close to, or even higher than, their historical top scores. This applies to the Dutch Freedom party, the French Front National, and now to AfD in Germany. According to polls, it will also hold for the Austrian Freedom party, which is set to enter the coalition government after next month’s parliamentary elections.”
In many ways they are right. Since the Brexit vote of June 2016, and President Trump’s election in November, there has been a groundswell of political opinion that seeks more nationalistic approaches in government. In fact, the largest gains for parties have come to those who promote an “our country comes first” narrative. While critics lament this trend, many argue that nationalism is not a bad thing, pointing out that both Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were staunch nationalists.
President Trump’s sovereignty speech at the United Nations has been roundly criticized by leftist leaning media. However, his “America First” nation-state sovereignty position seems to be resonating. If not globally, at least throughout Europe. His speech was praised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well.