Germany’s establishment just doesn’t get why the AfD is on the march

Is AfD following in the footsteps of controversial German writer Ernst Jünger? Seen here in Nice, France, 15 May 1978. Also a highly decorated soldier, Jünger was shunned by the Left who claimed he glorified nationalism in his seminal World War I memoir “Storm of Steel”. He remained one of Germany's most prolific and unorthodox writers, at odds with the German establishment. His later writings critiqued materialism in modern society. His winning the Goethe Prize in 1982 caused an outcry. (Photo by Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)


According to Robert Habeck, the Green Minister of Economic Affairs, Germany has to prepare for five tough years.  The burdens on ordinary people will be significant, the minister acknowledges. After these five years – apparently – the green industrial transition will have been accomplished, finally leading to growth rates of more than five percent. Chancellor Scholz had originally promised those for this year. The question is, why should anyone believe Germany’s leaders now? Just a few months ago, Germans were promised an economic miracle, and now all of a sudden the people have to prepare for half a decade of hardship. Most people sense that it might be longer than that. 

It would not be the first promise to be broken by the coalition government. After proclaiming for years that Germany does not need its 21 GW nuclear power plants, Berlin is now frantically trying to secure subsidies from the EU to build 25 GW of gas-fired power capacity. These are supposedly going to be switched from natural gas to hydrogen in the very near future, but if you talk to industry experts it becomes clear that “very near” is just a euphemism for “someday, maybe.” Hydrogen is a fickle substance and not an energy source, but an energy carrier – which means it will need additional energy to produce hydrogen which then can be used in these power plants. More energy use and more intermediate steps also means accumulating costs that have to the borne by the taxpayer. 

To add insult to injury, Robert Habeck now demands massive subsidies to help cover the energy costs for Germany’s industries, after – again – having claimed for years that there is no energy crisis. Whether it is dishonesty or delusion, is it really any wonder that more and more people are considering casting their vote for the AfD? Whatever the flaws of the Alternative für Deutschland, their predictions regarding the suicidal energy policy pursued by Berlin turned out to be correct. A widespread claim is that the populist party offers no solutions, but one might suggest that this is part of its appeal. So far, all of the solutions – the Energiewende (the energy transition), the exit from nuclear power, and the ongoing deindustrialization – have turned out to make things worse. So, maybe more and more Germans have an appetite for a party without grand visions, but with the promise of a return to a time when things seemed to work. 

Even though the AfD is doing yeoman’s work to remain unelectable for the majority of Germans – as demonstrated by choosing Maximilian Krah as its top candidate for the upcoming elections to the European Parliament – it is unlikely that this will have any effect on their success at the polls. Krah, a sitting MEP, is even controversial within his own party, due to his sympathies for Russia and his closeness to the AfD’s far-Right Flügel faction around Björn Höcke. The controversial politician is wildly popular in eastern Germany in general and his home state of Thuringia in particular. 

Yet none of this matters if a growing number of ordinary Germans have a sense that all the other parties are conspiring against the interests of the people. The AfD stands at 21 per cent in current polls, in second place behind the CDU/CSU with 26 per cent. If one would look at the CDU and the CSU as separate parties, however, the AfD would be on the brink of becoming Germany’s strongest party. Long gone are the days when the SPD and CDU/CSU were holding on to over 75 per cent of the vote (as they still did in 2002).

To fight back, all the traditional parties would have to do is take up the issues of the AfD and make them their own. This is a strategy that worked successfully for the former Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Picking up the topics of the populist Freedom party and pretending to have listened to the people’s concerns, he rose to become one of Europe’s most successful conservative politicians with relative ease, despite him entering into – and dominating – a coalition with the Freedom Party.

Instead of learning from past mistakes, both the Left and conservative Right are digging in their heels in almost hysterical opposition to the AfD. Friedrich Merz, the leader of the CDU has come close to being ousted for suggesting that there could be some exceptions allowing for cooperation with the AfD on the municipal level; the Greens appear to be on the brink of forbidding their party members from having a beer with members of the Right-wing party.

There seems to be a deep-seated misunderstanding about how democracy works, and neither the CDU/CSU, nor the SPD, the Greens, or the Liberals have understood that the people do not perceive themselves as merely rubber stamping the ideological preferences of whichever party is in power. Expecting a majority of Germans to approve the undermining of their economy and the sustainability of their wealth in order to “save the planet” is foolish, but apparently it will take an AfD politician in the federal chancellery for the establishment to understand this.