AfD supporters celebrate as exit polls are announced. EPA/Thorsten Wagner
The Alternative for Germany (AfD), the right wing upstart of German politics, will enter the national parliament for the first time after taking 12.6% of the vote in the 2017 election.
The party is barely five years old and was but a newborn when the last election took place (in 2013). It polled 4.7% then, narrowly missing the 5% vote share needed to gain representation in the federal parliament.
In the four years since, the AfD has transformed itself. It was once led predominantly by professors who were deeply worried about the future of the euro but is now a broad church of right-wing naysayers. Indeed, the party’s name stems from Angela Merkel’s now famous observation that there was no alternative to the policies her government put in place in a bid to save the euro at the height of the financial crisis.
The AfD argued that there were alternatives and the party was born to try and illustrate just what those alternatives where.
The party’s transformation away from its euro-focused roots has been a radical one. As the eurocrisis dropped in salience, the AfD’s popularity fell and it was in all probability destined to drift into insignificance. Then came the refugee influx of 2015 and 2016. The party’s response to Merkel’s open door policy has rendered it almost unrecognisable from the one that Bernd Lucke and his fellow euroscpetics founded in April 2013.
For one thing, a number of AfD politicians use firebrand rhetoric the type of which modern Germany has not heard before. Frauke Petry, arguably the party’s most well-known figure, claimed in January 2016 that there were situations where German border officials could legitimately shoot refugees trying to get over the border.
There are also those such as Bjoern Hoecke who look to relativise Germany’s past, just as there are many who are strongly anti-Muslim. Opposition to Merkel’s policies towards refugees nonetheless remains the galvanising force that keeps the party together. In that sense, the AfD has echoes of the National Front in France and other hard right actors across Europe.