European debut for Germany's 'dying' extreme right?
For the first time, right-wing extremists could win a seat in the European Parliament with a campaign driven by deep-seated hate for "the gypsies" and "the Brussels EU-Moloch". But it is the EU itself, which could save the party from ruin. EurActiv Germany reports.
"Put on the gas" was the slogan printed above Udo Voigt on campaign posters for the German Bundestag elections last September, picturing the candidate from the National Democratic Party for Germany (NPD) smiling harmlessly from the seat of a motorcycle.
But the unmistakable hint at victims in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps was clear, particularly when one of the posters was hung in front of the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Now, the same Udo Voigt is putting all his strength into winning a seat in the European Parliament as the NPD's top candidate. After the German Constitutional Court ruled to abolish the 3% electoral threshold for representation in the Parliament, the NPD could very well win the roughly 1% of votes it would need on 25 May.
"New chances have emerged for us, ever since the undemocratic 3% hurdle in the European elections was dissolved in Germany. Now every vote which is submitted for the NPD will also count for the NPD," said top candidate Voigt, who is confidently hoping for numerous NPD seats in the European Parliament.
Lurid campaign against Sinti and Roma
The European picture of the extreme right is a collage made up of constructed images of the enemy.
The image of "the gypsy", for example, is provocatively plastered on campaign posters: "Money for Grandma, instead of for Sinti and Roma."
In numerous cities the NPD demonstrates in front of refugee shelters, chanting racist, anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic slogans. They call for immediate deportation of migrants and – according to the election agenda – an "immediate end to uncontrolled mass-migration to Europe".
But there is a second image of the enemy: The "EU-Moloch Brussels", standing in the way of Germany's national, sovereign interests.
"The NPD represents racial nationalism: a Europe of fatherlands. In a construct like this, the EU is naturally out of place," said journalist and expert in right-wing extremism, Patrick Gensing.
"In terms of content, the party plays a passive role in the election campaign. It links itself to moods and media discussions. An example is the discussion on poverty migration from Bulgaria and Romania. This issue was particularly emphasised by the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) and simply picked up by the NPD – naturally with the indication that the NPD is the original source of this debate," said Gensing.
Politics professor: "NPD is collapsing"
Whether or not the NPD will actually succeed in this, is questionable. In recent years the party has gradually broken down from within. "The NPD is on the verge of collapse. With its self-declared fight to conquer the parliaments, the street and the heads, [the party] has failed", explained Berlin political scientist Hajo Funke.
In Brandenburg, Saxonia and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania the party has lost its voter potential, said Funke. On the streets, neo-Nazi resistance is increasingly led by independent forces, he said, and parts of the public which supported the NPD up till now, do not take the party seriously any longer.
Resistance from citizens against right-wing extremist marches has increased significantly, Funke indicated, so that the NPD has partially withdrawn itself.
"The NPD has a filthy image that it cannot shake off", explained Patrick Gensing. The reference to National Socialism still shapes the identity of the NPD and threatens to have it be banned once and for all. Over the past fifteen years, Gensing said, the party has not been able to reinforce its ranks with much new blood. The NPD is a "dying party,” he added.
As a result, the party has no other choice but to use its last strength for provocation. Take the party's plans to interrupt television debates and talk shows on the European elections with dozens of NPD followers as an example, Gensing said.
NPD voters drawn to the AfD
But in comparison, Gensing sees the National Front as far more "successful".
"The French party has modernised itself,” the extremism expert explained. “It has dropped its ties to National Socialism, and is now primarily focusing on the immigration issue. For many people, this makes it much more attractive and therefore more successful.”
Right-wing populism is also in vogue. Germany’s Eurosceptic AfD could win 7% of the German vote in the European elections, according to the latest polls. Among them are voters who originated from the NPD's following.
"In Brandenburg, half of the NPD's potential voters have migrated to the AfD. The AfD holds similar resentments to those of the NPD, but in contrast these are highly codified [in the AfD]", explained Hajo Funke
In addition, Funke said, the NPD is stuck in "financial misery". But in this regard, the European elections could reverse the threat of collapse. Every MEP receives a monthly personal budget of € 21,209 and has € 4,299 at their disposal to cover monthly expenses. The distribution of this lump sum must not be verified by any documentation and can be deposited directly into the bank account of the MEP.
"While the NPD had to let go many of its full-time employees in December 2013 due to financial difficulties, these funds could be used to relieve the personnel shortage," explained Tobias Peter, who works for Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht and is the author of the study Europa Rechtsaußen ("Europe on the far-right").
EU-level networking for the extreme right
At the moment, the NPD is organised within the coordinating structure of the European National Front, though it does not receive any funding from above. "But a membership in the Alliance of European National Movements (AEMN) could mean further financial benefits: For the year 2013, the AEMN received around € 385,000", Peter indicated.
Every German MEP would additionally gain access to the motor pool, the infrastructure and an office in the German Bundestag.
"Besides the parliamentary setting of the European Parliament, in Germany this would also offer a new stage and a serious structure for the party's work," said Peter.
NPD top candidate Voigt will use his seat in the European Parliament to deepen the party's integration within the European network of extreme right parties, Funke said. The network includes the Hungarian Jobbik Party, the Greek Golden Dawn, the Ukrainian Svoboda and various other organisations in western Europe and Scandinavia.
With or without the NPD – right-wing extremism and racist resentment will continue to find support within the public, Gensing said. The outcome would be more aggressive acts of violence by independent forces against "left-wing activists" and those of alleged non-German heritage – or increased strength for right-wing populist parties like the AfD.
"For the political culture, the AfD is currently more dangerous than the NPD", said Gensing, "Similar to right-wing extremists, right-wing populists are poisoning the societal atmosphere."
On 22-25 May, all 28 EU member states will hold elections for the European Parliament.
Across Europe, parties are gearing up to go head-to-head on unemployment, euroscepticism and the future of the European Union.