German left blames CDU for populist surge

The Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 7 seats in the European Parliament after European elections on 25 May. [Caruso Pinguin/Flickr]

The Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 7 seats in the European Parliament after European elections on 25 May. [Caruso Pinguin/Flickr]

The Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party celebrated after sending their first MEPs to to the European Parliament yesterday (25 May), triggering a blame game between leftists and conservatives over who should bear responsibility. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Leading politicians from the Greens and the Left Party claim the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) are responsible because they strengthened right-wing parties with their own Eurosceptic election campaign.

“Not all democratic parties declared themselves against right-wing forces in our country,” criticised Gabi Zimmer, top candidate for the Left Party, speaking with EURACTIV Germany.

After a successful result from the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the European election on Sunday (25 May), as many as seven representatives from the AfD could move into the European Parliament.

>> Read: Germany’s centre-right wins election, Eurosceptics near 7%

A “political challenge”, Zimmer said. But it is a “political disaster” that a seat will also go to Udo Voigt, top candidate for the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), Zimmer emphasised.

“The Alternative for Germany (AfD) achieved such good results because the established parties confirmed the AfD’s Eurosceptic campaign,” said Rebecca Harms, top candidate for the Greens in an interview with EURACTIV Germany. “Above all, with the criticism that Brussels is too bureaucratic and too far removed from the citizens. I am convinced that people can be won-over to support the European idea, if one defends it,” said Harms.

“The centre-right alliance’s Eurosceptic campaigns have strengthened the AfD – and also the [neo-Nazi] NPD,” she said.

Even Angela Merkel and the CDU are responsible for the AfD’s success, according to the Green Party. “Angela Merkel participated in this right-wing populism when she rejected the social union,” explained Toni Hofreiter, leader of the Green Party faction in the Bundestag, told EURACTIV Germany.

Just a few days ago in an interview, Merkel rejected the idea of a “social union” in Europe. In the interview, Merkel said EU citizens looking for work in Germany should not receive the Hartz IV welfare benefit. “The CDU and the CSU have cleared the way for the right-wing populist campaigns of the AfD and the [neo-Nazi] NPD,” said Hofreiter.

The centre-right alliance will “address the potential worries of the AfD’s voters,”said CDU top candidate David McAllister. It will be made clear, he said, that on complex European policy issues, the party offers very simple, and therefore incorrect answers.

The Eurosceptic AfD’s results give the centre-right alliance something to think about, said Lower Saxony’s CDU Secretary-General Ulf Thiele. “The AfD probably hoped for more, but we must still consider how we can be able to push such a right-wing populist party – which can be dangerous for Europe – back under the 5% threshold.”

Joachim Starbatty, who is fifth on the AfD’s candidate list, explained to EURACTIV Germany that the AfD “is speaking for itself”. “We are successful because we are capable, because we have good arguments, because we have taken the citizens with us, and next time we will rally even more citizens”, said Starbatty. “We are a party that comes from the middle. We will make the other party’s voters unfaithful”, said the AfD politician.

For political scientist Michael Kaeding, Jean Monnet Professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen, the AfD’s result is “no surprise”. It was “only a matter of time” until there would be successful results from a Eurosceptic party, Kaeding said. “In Germany it has been remarkable that the country did not have a Euro-critical party. There has been a Eurosceptic trend in European countries since the ’80s. In Germany, these interests are now pooled within the AfD.”

Still, Kaeding does not see a concerning Eurosceptic trend in Germany. All in all, Kaeding said, the established parties are “Europe-friendly”. 

According to the first exit polls from the ARD and ZDF television broadcasters, Merkel's centre-right alliance emerged with 35.5% as the strongest force in the 2014 European elections. Nevertheless, its score fell 2.3% compared to 2009.

These losses were almost completely sustained by the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), which lost 2.2%. Merkel's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) only fell 0.3%.

The Social Democrats gained substantially compared to the 2009 European elections, winning 27.2% among German voters, 6.4% more than in last year's Bundestag elections. Shortly after the first exit polls, Martin Schulz and Sigmar Gabriel made a joint appearance in Berlin.

The Greens ended up as the third strongest party in Germany, winning 10.7% of the vote, down 1.4% from 2009.

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