Germany’s Eurosceptic AfD meets to define party platform

Hoffmann-Axthelm: "The AfD went from anti-euro to anti-immigrant party, so they have no credible profile on economic policies as things stand. " []

Right-wingers are gaining influence in Germany, as more liberals join the Alternative for Germany party. But ahead of a national convention in Erfurt, the AfD is scrambling for consensus on a number of issues, hoping for a manifesto that will signal "solidarity and a departure on a new course". EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany’s eurosceptic party Alternative for Germany (AfD) will not rest. At its second national party convention this weekend (22-23 March), the AfD intends to adopt an election manifesto – but the party is still divided over which values it actually represents.

>> Read: Germany’s Eurosceptic AfD launches EU elections campaign

Criticism of the euro seems to be the only glue holding the party together so far. Among its own ranks, the AfD cannot even agree on a broad ideological designation.

In January, Hans-Olaf Henkel, former head of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and new to AfD member, proudly said, “the AfD is Germany’s last liberal party”.

Meanwhile Bernd Lucke, top candidate and uncontested party leader of the AfD, said he personifies exactly the opposite, touting “I am not a liberal” in an interview for merkur-online.

Lucke’s statement at the beginning of March was the last straw for AfD spokeswoman Dagmar Metzger. She reacted by resigning shortly thereafter. From now on, she would “concentrate on criticism of the euro”, Metzger indicated earlier this month, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

Metzger is not the only party member who is frustrated with the AfD’s attempts to pin down other positions.

At the party’s Saxony state convention on 1 March, several party members left the hall in protest against growing right-wing rhetoric. The reaction came just after a majority of attendees endorsed holding referendums over minaret construction, and called for more German-speaking music on public radio.

Party spokeswoman Frauke Petry personally admitted that she feels chills running down her back when children sing “Happy Birthday” instead of “Zum Geburtstag viel Glück”.

‘Shitstorm’ over anti-feminist campaign

The AfD’s youth organisation, “Junge Alternative” is also stirring up a hornet’s nest with a recent crusade of anti-feminism.

Dubbed a “shitstorm” by the Rheinische Post, the Facebook campaign “Equality instead of Egalitarianism” called for abolishing gender quotas, claiming these are an expression of “dusty left-wing ideologies”.

The site featured photographs of young people holding up signs with slogans like, “I am not a feminist because I like to have doors opened for me and to be helped into my coat”, and “I am not a feminist because my husband is my solid rock and not my class enemy.”

Beatrix von Storch is the figurehead of the AfD’s Christian-conservative camp and is in fourth place on the party’s European candidate list. She leads various associations which harken back to values of the American Tea Party movement: supporting parents’ right to school their children at home, abstinence, the traditional family structure, and opposing homosexuality.

“I wish to ensure, that the family model with children is returned to the centre of attention,” said Markus Frohmeier (23), top candidate for the Junge Alternative, in an interview.

His party promotes “genuine freedom of choice” for women, he said, so that they are no longer forced to deal with pressure to integrate into the labour market. Instead, women should enjoy social and financial recognition in their role as mothers, he argues.

AfD support dampened by Ukraine crisis

Is the AfD, with its societal criticism, positioning itself as a melting pot for people who cannot identify with modern ideas of morality? Thomas Petersen, project director at the  Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach (IfD Allensbach), says the party gives license to express repressed conservative anxieties.

“There are topics with which you can burn your mouth”, said the opinion researcher. Criticism nowadays, of generally accepted values like the emancipation of women, he said, arouse support among many people who share similar opinions, but may not publicly express them. The social understanding of roles represented by established parties passes over certain sections of the population, Petersen said.

Still, Petersen explained, the unifying principle of the AfD remains scepticism of the EU and the euro currency. Surveys put the AfD at almost 5% in recent months. Petersen is certain the party will be able to hold these numbers up to the European elections – unless something completely unexpected occurs.

Current developments in Ukraine for example, tend to hurt the AfD, he said. The crisis redirects the debate away from the economic and toward the political dimension of the EU. And on the latter, the eurosceptics are not able to score as many points, Petersen indicated.

However, if another EU member state – perhaps France – falls into financial difficulties, the AfD would benefit significantly according to the opinion researcher. As a result, Petersen said, “anything between 3% and 7% is conceivable”.

On the other hand Peter Matuschek, division director for political and social research at forsa, does not see a close connection between the current political climate and the expected results for the AfD.

According to him, the AfD has not been a single-issue party since the German elections, at the very latest. They have long since benefited from their anti-establishment image. If this were not the case, the researcher is convinced, the party would never have reached the 5% share of the electorate.

Still, Matuschek avoided a precise prognosis. Due to low voter participation rates, the percentage to be won by the AfD in the European elections is much more difficult to predict than during the Bundestag elections last September.

In general, Matuschek said, smaller parties perform better in the European elections because “only the most loyal” followers of the established parties come to the polls.

Eurosceptic parties around Europe have shown their willingness to act on a European level.

The controversial Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders recently toured Europe in an attempt to forge a new movement of far-right parties ahead of the European elections.

But not many supposed “like-minded” parties were ready to join the initiative, and UKIP, the most vocal Eurosceptic party in the European Parliament, rejected the proposition outright.

Eurosceptic political parties are blossoming in many European countries, but their backgrounds and causes are very different. Analysts have argued that even though the next Parliament could have a much higher number of Eurosceptic, even populist MEPs, they have a smaller chance of forming a coherent bloc.

>> Read more on the upcoming EU elections

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