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Scandals alone won’t bring down the AfD

German voters are desperate to hit back against a complacent establishment.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl
Germany Correspondent

Topics Politics World

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It seems the AfD can barely go five minutes without being embroiled in another scandal. Last week, Germany’s right-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was kicked out of the Identity and Democracy (ID) group in the European Parliament, with just a week to go before the European elections.

The move came after Maximilian Krah, the AfD’s lead MEP candidate, appeared to trivialise the Nazis’ war crimes. He suggested to an Italian newspaper that not everyone who wore an SS uniform was automatically a criminal. Following his remarks, France’s Marine Le Pen announced that her party, National Rally, would no longer associate with the AfD in the European Parliament. ‘The AfD is a movement that is not managed and that is obviously under the influence of radical groups’, she said. She was supported by ID members from Italy, Czechia, the Netherlands, Denmark and others.

The news of the breakup has been greeted with glee by the German commentariat. For many, this is further proof that the AfD ought to be banned. They say it is ‘not a normal party’ and Germans should not be allowed to even consider voting for it. Even Marine Le Pen, they now delight in pointing out, thinks the AfD is too right-wing.

If commentators are hoping that the latest scandal will finally lead to the AfD’s demise, then they are likely to be disappointed. The AfD certainly has its many problems and Le Pen is right to say that it is ‘rushing from provocation to provocation’. Yet one of the most striking things about the AfD has been its staying power, despite the ineptitude and unpleasantness of many of its politicians.

In fact, the AfD has been plagued by scandals since its inception in 2013. So far, it has survived its own founder, Bernd Lucke, resigning in disgust in 2015 over the party’s turn to the radical right. It has weathered multiple Nazi scandals, such as when the then party chairman called the Third Reich a ‘speck of bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history’ back in 2018. One wing of the AfD has been monitored by Germany’s domestic intelligence service and there are routine calls for the party to be banned. Yet none of this seems to dent its support among voters.

This is not to say that the AfD wouldn’t do well to expel some of its more unsavoury characters. Maximilian Krah, in particular, would be no great loss. His nomination last summer as the AfD’s lead candidate was widely interpreted as a sign of the strength of the ‘Flügel’ – the party’s far-right wing (and source of most of the scandals).

Krah has also been embroiled in plenty of other controversies. Just last month, his long-serving aide was arrested under suspicion of spying for China. Krah himself is being investigated by the European Anti-Fraud Office in relation to corruption claims involving Russia. If that wasn’t bad enough, the AfD’s No2 candidate for the EU elections, Petr Bystron, had his offices raided by the police earlier this month, over money laundering and bribery allegations.

And yet, despite all this, the AfD has been consistently polling in second place ahead of next week’s European elections. According to one survey, the AfD hasn’t lost any support since the latest Nazi scandal.

Of course, it remains to be seen how well the AfD will do in the actual elections. But those who have predicted the AfD’s demise have repeatedly been proven wrong in the past. A regional election last Sunday in the eastern German state of Thuringia is a case in point. While the conservative CDU won with 27 per cent of the vote, the AfD followed closely on its heels, winning 26 per cent (a gain of nearly 10 percentage points on the last Thuringian election). Meanwhile, the SPD, the party of German chancellor Olaf Scholz, received a mere 12 per cent of the votes. The Greens and the Liberals, the other two parties that make up the current government coalition, were left lagging far behind with around four per cent and three per cent respectively.

The German elites seem to think it will take just one more scandal to change voters’ minds about the AfD. In reality, most Germans know full well that it is a problematic party. You can see this in the huge gap between the AfD’s general approval ratings and the popularity of its many obnoxious politicians. In Thuringia, for example, while almost 26 per cent voted for the AfD in the regional elections, surveys show that only six per cent of people trust and like the party’s local leader, Björn Höcke. Höcke, who is generally considered to be the leader of the right-wing ‘Flügel’, remains one of the most unpopular politicians in Germany.

So why did Thuringians still choose to vote for the AfD? It is disenchantment with mainstream politics that has been driving voters to the AfD. Indeed, it is seen by many as the only party that is willing to raise concerns about Germany’s disastrous Net Zero policy, its embrace of gender ideology, its turn against free speech and the impact of mass migration. That’s why smear campaigns and actual scandals alike have barely made a dent in the AfD’s electoral standing.

From this perspective, the elites are right to be worried. The fact that all their anti-AfD campaigns have failed so badly shows how blind they are to voters’ concerns.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl is spiked’s Germany correspondent.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World

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