One of the German left’s most prominent politicians hit out at Angela Merkel following the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party’s election success, in an interview with EURACTIV’s partner, Der Tagesspiegel.
Sahra Wagenknecht is chairperson of Die Linke’s Bundestag faction.
Wagenknecht spoke to Der Tagesspiegel’s Matthias Meisner.
Why is the left no longer first choice when it comes to people casting protest votes?
We clearly have not managed to distinguish ourselves sufficiently from other parties. It is telling that opinion polls show that a large part of people who voted for the AfD did so not because they believe in their politics, but because they were disillusioned with other parties.
But we have to ask ourselves why people now perceive the left to be a part of an anti-social party cartel. It’s a big problem and things have to change.
So Die Linke has to adapt?
We haven’t made it clear enough that we are a party that wants to pursue a completely different policy line. We are not in favour of further social divide, poor wages or lousy pensions, we want to restore the welfare state. That’s why Die Linke was established. But the distinction between us and the politics of Merkel, the politics of the main coalition, clearly hasn’t been perceived by many people.
We have lost our traditional voter base. The AfD made big gains among workers, the unemployed and those in risky self-employment. These are the people that we should be reaching. That’s why we can’t keep going on like this. We have to ask ourselves what we have done wrong and what needs to be done to correct it.
The AfD successfully courted a lot of non-voters too. What can Die Linke learn from this in particular?
Non-voters in the last state election were probably Die Linke voters at the previous. In 2009, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Die Linke managed almost 30% of the vote. We’ve also had other showings of over 20% in other votes. Many people now feel that their interests are not being taken into account by their political representatives. A vote for the AfD is a form of self-defence and a way of trying to draw attention. That, as well as trying to give the other parties a slap in the face.
We have to ask ourselves why we aren’t seen as a party for social change and are just perceived as a protest vote at best.
Before the election, a lot of your allies criticised you for pursuing a kind of embracing strategy towards the AfD. What is your take on that?
It’s completely absurd. I don’t embrace the AfD. I am critical of Merkel’s policies, which have led to a lot of insecurity and fear, because they lack concept. It is untenable to allow large numbers of people to come into Germany and to then leave local authorities and volunteers alone with the problem.
The conditions needed for integration to work have to be created first. The government has not done this, quite the opposite in fact.
Is Merkel’s refugee policy to blame for the AfD’s sharp rise?
According to surveys carried out, the most important voter issue was refugee policy, with social justice ranked second. People’s ire when it comes to refugees has been exacerbated by years of pent-up anger caused by inequality and a growing social divide. Merkel’s policy since last autumn has increased these fears and insecurities. It is irresponsible for the federal budget to stash billions away, while at the same time local finance officers have to make cuts in order to finance integration measures.
Merkel’s policy ultimately gave the AfD their breakthrough. Just look at their recent history. Last summer, they were hovering around the 3% mark. But now they are in double digits.
Sahra Wagenknecht, Chairperson, Die Linke's Bundestag faction.