Germany Made Its Decision: No Future for the Far Right?

December 8, 2021

Although public support for the AfD has declined, having received 10.3% or 4,803,902 votes in a country with a high population like Germany suggests that it still has many supporters across German society.
Free Democratic Party (FDP) Secretary General Volker Wissing (C) and Social Democrats (SPD) Secretary General Lars Klingbeil (R) arrive to speak to press members after talks on forming a coalition government following recent general elections in Berlin, Germany on October 3, 2021. Photo by Abdulhamid Hoşbaş. Anadolu Images.

The elections held in Germany on September 26, 2021, produced interesting results. The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) increased its votes by 1.8% to become the first party after nearly 23 years, while Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s Christian democratic alliance of two political parties – the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) – lost 7.7% of votes with Armin Laschet and came in second position.

No party could get enough votes to form a single party government. Compared with the 2017 elections, the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) received only 10.3%, a drop of 2.3% compared to 2017. Another significant change was the withdrawal from political life of Angela Merkel who had been Germany’s chancellor uninterruptedly since 2005.

Angela Merkel: “We can do this”

Chancellor Merkel led not only Germany but Europe as a whole in the fight against the Euro crisis, the so-called immigration crisis, Brexit, and COVID-19. In particular, her slogan “We can do this” (Wir schaffen das), which she put forward on August 31, 2015 during the European “migrant crisis”, was later used in many other crises.

This concept, also known as “welcoming culture” (Willkommenskultur), became a concept that presented Germany’s positive attitude towards immigrants, especially in the eyes of politicians and public institutions. However, politics in Germany did not evolve as optimistically as the slogan would have one believe: the AfD, a new political party, used Merkel’s slogan against her to rise in politics.

The rapid rise and fall of the AfD

The AfD was established in 2013 with anti-Muslim and anti-immigration policies and increased in popularity rapidly. In 2015, intense immigration to Europe from Middle Eastern countries, primarily Syria, and Germany’s reception of approximately 1.2 million immigrants in 2015 and 2016, caused the AfD to find quick social support and to rise in the 2017 elections. This rise started to decline before reaching high levels.

Given the legacy of WW II, it was unknown whether support for the AfD, Germany’s first far-right party in recent times, would continue given the fact that violations of Muslims’ rights and attacks against Muslims, Islamic organizations, and foreigners have been increasing across the country. The AfD had received 4.7% of the votes in 2013, and it turned the 2015 immigration crisis into an opportunity and received 12.6% of the votes in the 2017 federal elections.

Thus, the 2021 elections were very important to understand the possible future directions that the AfD could take. An increase in the public support for the far-right party was predicted due to the deterioration of the economy and the increase in prices, especially due to the pandemic for the past 1.5 years.

The AfD’s votes, despite all this rising xenophobia and discrimination, decreased by 2.3% compared to the 2017 elections, dropping to 10.3%.

For example, according to a report by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, the number of people seeking counseling due to discrimination increased from 2,995 in 2017 to 3,455 in 2018, and from 3,580 in 2019 to 6,383 in 2020. Of the latter, 1,904 were requests for counseling due to conditions arising from discrimination related to COVID-19.

The AfD’s votes, despite all this rising xenophobia and discrimination, decreased by 2.3% compared to the 2017 elections, dropping to 10.3%. With these results, the AfD’s remaining seats in the Bundestag became 83 with a loss of 11. This decline is undoubtedly an encouraging development for Germany’s multicultural structure, foreigners, and Muslims. On the other hand, the results indicate that the AfD’s 10% base remains loyal.

Elections in Germany and the far right

The most important factor in the drop in AfD votes is that the party lost credibility by not making specific policy recommendations for the problems that Germany is facing.

First of all, although the vast majority of Muslims in Germany are peaceful and tolerant, the AfD has created hostile rhetoric about Islam. It incites fear, classifies people, and pits groups against each other, especially during elections. The AfD conflates the concepts of Islam, immigration, and terrorism. On the other hand, COVID-19 underlined the codependency and interconnectedness of all segments of German society.

Although the vast majority of Muslims in Germany are peaceful and tolerant, the AfD has created hostile rhetoric about Islam.

The AfD claimed that internal security deteriorated due to the increasing number of foreigners and Muslims in Germany. However, the police crime statistics, which have been recorded since 1993, demonstrate the crime rates have been constantly decreasing.

The AfD’s asylum policy consists of harsh political demands and provocative slogans: they want to close the borders, exercise deportation, and cut off social support. Even the right of asylum provided by international law means nothing to them. The party wants to abolish individual protection and asylum guarantees. However, statistics reveal that Germany needs more foreign labor every year. If the AfD’s policy propositions had, in fact, been realized, there would have been serious problems in the labor supply in Germany as was the case in the U.K.

Elections and Germany’s domestic politics: immigration and Islamophobia

Although public support for the AfD has declined, having received 10.3% or 4,803,902 votes in a country with a high population like Germany suggests that it still has many supporters across German society. The AfD’s active use of digital platforms and social media is enhancing its popularity, especially among the youth. The AfD is the vanguard party for young people under 30. While 19% of voters under 30 voted for the AfD, 18% preferred the CDU.

The AfD is followed by the Green Party with 13% of the votes. This figure shows that the middle-aged and elderly population prefer the traditional parties; however, this points to a danger lurking in  Germany’s future. On the one hand, cases of violence related to discrimination and xenophobia are increasing in society, and on the other hand, votes for the far-right AfD are decreasing.

This may seem like a contradiction, but it shows that people with far-right ideas resort to violence more than in the past. Research has shown that 38% of AfD voters are strictly populist and 35% are partially populist. The majority (56%) of AfD voters seem to have embraced far-right views: 27% are potentially far-right advocates while 29% explicitly adhere to far-right ideology.

The September 2021 elections in Germany show that hopefully for at least four years, Muslims and foreigners will not face extra legal restrictions as the new German government is not expected to step up the abuses of the rights of Muslims or foreigners. The so-called Traffic Light Coalition (Ampelkoalition) consisting of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the Free Democratic Party, and the Greens declared a coalition agreement that promised granting some rights to immigrants.

For instance, children who were born in Germany will receive German citizenship immediately at birth if one of the parents has lived in Germany for at least five years. Another important promise for immigrants is that they can become dual citizens. The conditions for acquiring German citizenship after five years of residing in the country could be made easier in Germany.

In other words, there is a room for hope. However, the AfD still poses a threat to Germany’s future. Time will tell whether the AfD will opt for further radicalizing its voter base and try to make them more aggressive towards Muslims and foreigners in an effort to gloss over its election loss.

Muhammed Ali Uçar is a Jean Monnet scholar and was a visiting researcher at Danube University Krems. Currently, he is conducting research at the University of Vienna. His areas of expertise include political parties and the domestic and foreign policies of Germany and Austria.

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