AfD and National Front converge ahead of elections

The AfD has drifted closer to the French National Front since it was founded in 2013. [De Visu/Shutterstock]

The right-wing spiral of Germany’s anti-EU Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) has brought it shoulder to shoulder with France’s National Front (NF). The two parties see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, including Russia. EURACTIV France reports.

April 2016 was a turning point for the AfD, when MEP Marcus Pretzell joined the National Front’s Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group in the European Parliament.

Previously a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, the German anti-EU MEP and six of his AfD colleagues were forced out by the British Conservatives as they slid further and further to the right.

As a result, five of the seven MEPs, including party founder Bernd Lucke, left the AfD and remained in the ECR group as independent members. Beatrix von Storch chose to join Nigel Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group: the National Front was “too socialist” for her tastes.

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As a young party, the AfD kept its distance from the National Front, whose extreme right-wing politics were not well received in Germany. “But today, the party’s co-president Frauke Petry has met Marine Le Pen and an AfD MEP has joined her parliamentary group,” said Fabian Virchow, a professor in Düsseldorf and a specialist in the German extreme right.

Proposals to make the parties’ cooperation official have never been accepted by the AfD’s conference. But since the German party was founded four years ago, its positions have hardened as it has gained a firmer footing in the country’s political landscape.

“The AfD is undergoing a constant process of radicalisation, as well as becoming a more permanent fixture in German politics,” said Hans Stark, a professor at Paris-Sorbonne University.

“In 2013 the AfD won 4.7% of the vote in the German legislative elections, failing to [cross the 5% threshold needed to] enter the Bundestag. But the party took 7% of the vote in the 2014 European elections, winning seven seats, then had several big successes in the 2016 regional elections. And while the most recent polls show a slight dip in support, the AfD still has more than 10% support among German voters, which would give it between 70 and 100 seats,” Virchow said at a conference on the AfD held by the French Institute for International Relations in Paris last Thursday (2 March).

Changing stance

The party’s founding issue is its criticism of the European Union. “It believes the German taxpayer should not have to bear certain costs inherent to their EU membership, such as bailing out Greece,” the professor said.

Like the National Front, the AfD rejects “multicultural society, religious diversity, stigmatises Muslims and promotes the strengthening of the traditional gender and family roles”, he added.

Economically, the two parties converge on their desire to abolish the euro, as well as to implement protectionist policies aimed at supporting the working classes.

Rapprochement

“There is a lot of common ground between the two parties’ programmes and in their worldviews, particularly regarding nationalisation, the nation state, the rejection of immigration and closer ties with Turkey, the return of national sovereignty and relations with Russia,” Virchow said.

The question of relations with Russia could bring the French and German far-right movements even closer together in the future. “These parties want to establish a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis,” the professor added.

“Many members of the AfD are against sanctions on Russia: they see Vladimir Putin’s policies simply as anti-American,” said Virchow. This view is backed by the National Front, which calls for closer ties with the Kremlin and rejects the sanctions imposed on Moscow in response to its annexation of Crimea. For the French far-right, this was a legitimate choice ratified by the people.

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With the AfD’s support growing, an alliance between the two parties may now seem more attractive in France. Previously the National Front had concentrated more on relations with the extreme-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), which both had more established support bases.

“Today, the AfD is becoming a more interesting partner for the NF. There is a strengthening reciprocal interest in cooperation, which means the parties are willing to gloss over certain differences,” said Virchow.