Germany’s AfD dives deeper into the pool of right-wing extremism
An AfD election poster for the European elections reading "Our country first" is fixed on a pole in Frankfurt, Germany, May 13, 2024. | Michael Probst / AP

Voters across Europe head to the polls June 6 to 9 for elections to the European Parliament. In countries around the continent, the parties of the far right are expected to make major gains.

This article is part of a series, “Rise of the Right in Europe.” It is a collaborative project of three newspapers, Junge Welt in Germany, Arbejderen in Denmark, and Morning Star in Britain. Each installment in the series will examine the far-right threat in a different country.

German political scientist Gerd Wiegel, affiliated with Die Linke (The Left party) is an expert on right-wing extremism and fascism. In this article, he argues that Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is aiming to engineer a “D-Exit,” the country’s total withdrawal from the European Union.

Read other installments in the series: Rise of the Right in Europe.

Support for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has roughly doubled since the 2021 general election. From 10% in the last national elections, it has grown to 18-19% in the polls and has held second place in voter favorability for many months, behind the Christian Democrats. It is also predicted to make significant gains in the EU elections on June 9, meaning it could rise from 11% in 2019 to 19%.

This development is remarkable insofar as the AfD has undergone a further radicalization push during this time and has largely developed into a party of the extreme right with clear borrowings from fascist ideological elements.

While numerous other parties of this type, such as Franceʼs Rassemblement National or the Fratelli dʼItalia, have at least partially shifted to the political center to appeal to broad groups of voters, the AfD has so far taken the opposite approach. Its European lead candidate Maximilian Krah, for example, has announced that there will be no “Melonization” within the AfD.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that the AfD is running in the EU elections with a platform that only thinly veils its support for a “D-Exit”, i.e. Germanyʼs withdrawal from the EU.

Although this term is avoided in the platform, party leader Alice Weidel has pointed out in interviews that the AfD is aiming for a referendum on withdrawal if the EU cannot be restructured in its interests. For a country whose economy exports more than 50% of goods and services to the EU single market, that is a strong statement.

Ideology beats realpolitik for the AfD—this impression also seems to be gaining ground among the far-right European partner parties. Following revelations by the Correctiv research platform about the AfDʼs racist deportation plans, according to which millions of people with a migrant background living in Germany are to be expelled from the country, the AfDʼs partner parties have clearly distanced themselves.

Marine Le Pen, regarding the common group in the EU Parliament, demanded an explanation from the AfD. There are also enormous differences within the European far right with regard to the Russia-friendly policies of this and other right-wing parties.

In terms of European policy, the AfD focuses not only on the prospective liquidation of the EU but also on “Fortress Europe” and the prevention of any further communitization, especially with regard to the harmonization of minimum social standards. The total sealing off of the EUʼs external borders is seen as the only common task.

The free movement of workers in Europe is to be tightened with the aim of sealing off the German labor market, and the European Parliament is to be ultimately abolished.

“This EU must die so that the real Europe can live,” said Bjorn Hocke, party leader in the federal state of Thuringia, at the AfDʼs European conference, and this is exactly how the lead candidate Maximilian Krah sees his task: The AfD is replacing an EU that is primarily oriented towards the interests of capitalism with a “Europe of nations” defined in “volkisch” terms, which is to be organized under German hegemony and distanced from the U.S.

Criticism of an EU based on neoliberalism is justified and necessary, from a left-wing perspective. Criticism of the EU from a volkisch-nationalist perspective, on the other hand, opens the way to an even worse direction, which is why there should not be the slightest doubt as to how this criticism of the EU from the right should be assessed.

However, the policy of the EU and also of the governing “traffic-light parties” [Social Democrats-Free Democrats-Greens, named so because of their party colors] amounts to objective support for the extreme right. EU financial policy continues to be strongly influenced by neoliberal assumptions, and there is a threat of a return to the austerity budgets of the past, which would primarily be at the expense of workers.

With the focus on a new Cold War and the mobilzsation of huge sums for armament, a more social Europe will disappear even further from the agenda.

And the government coalition of the Social Democrats, liberals, and Greens has also promoted the AfDʼs key winning issues to the best of its ability over the past year.

The asylum and migration policy of the government and of the opposition Christian Democrats, which is aimed at isolation and exclusion, confirms the stricter measures that the AfD has been calling for for years and thus legitimizes the course of the party—which, in the eyes of large sections of the population, together with its European partner parties, has ensured such stricter measures.

This article was originally published by Junge Welt. It was translated from German to English by Marc Bebenroth.

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Gerd Wiegel
Gerd Wiegel

Dr. Gerd Wiegel is a political scientist and advisor on right-wing extremism and anti-fascism for Die Linke in the German parliament. He has worked on the extreme and populist Right in Germany and Europe for years and regularly writes on the topic in left-wing publications.