How can other parties respond to AfD?

The Alternative for Germany came second in elections to the state legislature in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Commentators discuss how the other parties should respond to the rise of the national conservatives and warn that the solutions should be pan-European.

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Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

CSU right to present stricter asylum policy

The CSU presented a strategy paper on refugees on Thursday that calls for a partial burqa ban and for Christian migrants to be given preferential treatment. This in not an attempt to pander to the AfD, Deutschlandfunk stresses:

“Upper limits, more deportations, the abolishment of dual citizenship, a burqa ban - none of these things are aberrations either linguistically or in terms of content. They are demands that - if we believe the surveys - are supported by a majority of the German population - and with good reason. … A state can pass these measures if it wants to. … The facts have shown that border protection works if you're willing to implement it properly and that it doesn't even necessarily lead to a humanitarian crisis. When politicians try to present their decisions as 'having no alternative', by contrast, this often leads to a political crisis - whether it's about saving the euro or asylum policy. Horst Seehofer [CSU leader and minister president of Bavaria] has every right to point this out - and it is not poor style either.”

Magyar Nemzet (HU) /

SPD should become leftist alternative to the AfD

Germany needs more than an "alternative" from the right, Magyar Nemzet believes, and puts the onus on the Social Democrats to give their programme a new orientation:

“The Austrian example shows that it only serves the interests of right-wing populism when the democratic parties present no alternatives to each other and merely stress what makes them different from the populists. German policy would also be well served if Merkel's course was opposed not only by angry rejection - as embodied by the AfD - but also by the platform of a truly democratic party. The SPD should finally pluck up the courage to join forces with the two left-leaning opposition parties in the Bundestag [the Greens and the Left Party] in stressing social issues (in this area the CDU and the AfD are not all that far apart). Such a fusion of leftist parties could prove to be the 'Alternative for Germany' that German democracy so desperately needs.”

Le Jeudi (LU) /

Populism demands a European response

The rise of populism must be countered not just in the countries concerned, Le Jeudi urges:

“In Germany as elsewhere, rather than being engulfed by the social fears that are the breeding grounds of such parties, it would be better to seek a social - and not just an economic - response. And above all intellectual rigour is needed to counter all the untruths proffered on all sides. These only lower the quality of the debate and secure a place for simplistic notions. However, a proper response to the rise of populism must not be limited to national debate in the context of parliamentary elections. It must also - and above all - be European. The informal meeting of the 27 member states in Bratislava on 16 September, which will deal with the Europe of tomorrow, will be decisive in this respect. Because like the Brexit, the electoral victories of populists above all undermine the future of the European Union.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

AfD a manageable rival

The established parties have made many mistakes in their dealings with the AfD, liberal politician and former German justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger comments on Zeit Online:

“One important step is quick recognition of populist agitation and a rapid and appropriate response. For far too long the governing parties have wasted the opportunity to instigate a debate on refugees that is unencumbered by emotions or prejudices. Once political discussion has degenerated into irrationality is it very hard to regain the upper hand with factual arguments. ... There are not absolute truths in democracy so the people are right to call for competent problem solving. According to the polls, few AfD voters believe their party has the competence to address key problems. Exaggerated promises and populist demands may work as a short-term strategy, but voters won't have forgotten them when the next elections roll around.”

Mozgástér (HU) /

Entire political establishment is to blame

The rise of the AfD in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is not just the fault of Angela Merkel, analyst Péter Törcsi writes on the blog portal Mozgástér:

“Yes, Merkel bears most of the responsibility because she let the genie out of the bottle with her misguided refugee policy. ... But if you take a closer look at the election results it's clear that it was more than Merkel-phobia that pushed voters into the arms of the AfD. Rather, the AfD's electoral victory has far more to do with the rejection of the entire political elite. And despite the fact that it is trying to shirk responsibility and overtake the AfD on the left with its social demagogy, the SPD is also to blame. As are the Greens, who are seen as the main backers of Merkel's refugee policy after the CDU. The Left Party, as the successor to the former East German communist party, is also viewed as part of the elite.”

Jornal de Negócios (PT) /

Populists will dominate German election campaign

Nothing and no one will be able to stop the advance of the AfD in the run-up to the German elections next year, Jornal de Negócios predicts:

“Frauke Petry is guaranteed to win a seat in parliament in the German elections in 2017. And if the liberals of the FDP who fell short of the five-percent hurdle in the last elections manage to win seats this time, it will be difficult for Merkel's Christian Democrats and her colleagues from the CSU to seek a coalition government with the SPD. The AfD's anti-Islam rhetoric rules it out as a coalition partner at the national and state level, but precisely this xenophobic protest rhetoric is dominating the political debate a year after Merkel's 'We can do it'. … From Munich CSU chief Horst Seehofer is going on the offensive and openly criticising the chancellor. But the CSU's Bavarian conservatism will have a hard time finding someone who could challenge Merkel.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Don't rule out coalition

Including the AfD in government could be the best way to disarm the party, counsels Nikolaus Blome, deputy editor-in-chief of the German tabloid Bild:

“Bringing the AfD into the fold might be a way to defang a populist movement that is clearly anti-establishment and xenophobic. AfD officials say openly that they do not want to be in government but they cannot explain why. Pressing them on this point might be a more effective way of draining support for the populist party than any of the other strategies that the CDU has attempted. Unfortunately, Ms Merkel is not a particularly daring or audacious politician. In all likelihood, she will try to keep on doing business as usual instead of broaching the delicate subject of coalition or co-operation with the AfD.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Demonization too easy

Rather than demonising the AfD the other parties should re-examine their own programmes, the daily paper Corriere del Ticino comments:

“It is wrong to portray the AfD as a far-right party. The NPD is a far-right party and has never achieved a political breakthrough precisely because of its impossible extremism. Frauke Petry's AfD, on the other hand, is gaining support among both the poor and the middle class. Its programme begins with the statement that the party is liberal and conservative. … It is for a Europe of nation states, it wants a referendum on the euro, more police and a better legal system, a limit to immigration, a rejection of Islam, less bureaucracy and the preservation of cultural identity. It also has clear ideas on environmental issues. These are all topics on which the AfD competes directly with the CDU, but not only that party: the Greens and the left also suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

AfD won't get any stronger than it is now

The AfD has reached its zenith in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Hospodářské noviny suspects:

“Although the AfD now sits in nine of the 16 German state parliaments, it doesn't have what it takes to beat the current coalition in the parliamentary elections. Sunday's result was the maximum. In the states of Western Germany the AfD isn't so popular. Not many people there believe the AfD can really improve the economic reality. And that is the basis for everything. If there's something the Germans really want it's the economic security that the CDU/CSU and the SPD have guaranteed for many years. Only a major economic crisis could pose a threat to Germany and the stability of Europe as a whole. With a stable economy the CDU will take the wind out of the AfD's sails.”

Berliner Zeitung (DE) /

Defend the liberal consensus

The democratic parties must join forces to firmly oppose the AfD, warns the Berliner Zeitung:

“It is frightening to see how much influence the AfD already exerts on public opinion, the general mood and above all in politics. And the politicians' reaction to it is the opposite of what it should be. They're not staying true to themselves and sticking to their policies but going on the defensive instead. … This is not the way to achieve a consensus of democrats against the right which is urgently needed in view of the AfD's growing success. The fact that this was mainly a protest by the voters must not be underestimated. The democratic parties can tell themselves that they can win back support with a solid social policy and by focussing on these voters politically once more. But the AfD is a party that wants to end the liberal consensus and make substantial changes to the country. And who knows how many voters might like that idea after all.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Periphery needs investments

The CDU can only counter the success of the AfD with large-scale investments, the Tages-Anzeiger believes:

“Particularly in eastern Germany the willingness of the state to help refugees was regarded with envy by those who feel they've received the short end of the stick. Traditional political approaches can do little faced with the increasingly undisguised mood of xenophobia. If the CDU adopts a harsher tone against foreigners and lets itself be carried away by the wave of anti-Islam hysteria, that will only legitimate the policies of the AfD. ... The German state must invest more not only where people feel neglected, but where they really are neglected. In areas where the schools and stores are closing, the bus no longer runs and the fire department only operates on the weekend because municipalities are too strapped for cash: in the countryside, the villages, the poorer neighbourhoods of the cities. The state can afford this. And it owes it to the people who view the new arrivals with resentment.”

Mediapart (FR) /

End austerity

The established parties have lost support above all because of their economic policies, Jean Bachèlerie writes in his blog with Mediapart:

“The German economic miracle seems more and more like a mirage. In the name of an ordoliberal model it subjects the EU to recessive economic policies that exacerbate inequalities while favouring the big German companies, which benefit from the de-industrialisation caused by austerity. In saying goodbye to social democratic compromises, the social democracy has changed orientation and now promotes liberal globalisation. That's happening right across Europe, including in Nordic countries like Sweden. The upshot is the loss of influence of the established parties. Once securing 35 percent or more of the popular vote, they have now become minority parties. ... This loss of influence has left the field open to an increasingly popular far right.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

A signal against "We can do it"

The AfD's victory in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a clear message of opposition to Merkel's refugee policy, comments NRC Handelsblad:

“This state is not representative of all Germany. And its economic role is also modest. But the signal sent by the voters is not. Exactly one year after Merkel decided to take in refugees stranded in Hungary the chancellor and her party are unable to convince a large part of the German public that her policy is right. … In recent months it had already become clear that many Christian Democratic politicians were distancing themselves from Merkel's refugee policy and by extension from the chancellor herself. The tensions between the CDU and [its sister party] the CSU are a particularly sensitive issue because parliamentary elections will be held in a year's time and Merkel still hasn't announced whether she will run for a fourth term of office.”