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Monday, 22 April 2013

Only Fools and Horses – Protest parties in Germany

Two weeks ago, the political party landscape in Germany has been enlarged by the creation of a new party – but without making things any easier.

The new “AfD” (“Alternative für Deutschland“ = Alternative for Germany)  is, as a couple if other smaller parties, based on an „anti-Euro“ slogan and the demand for Germany to leave the EMU (European Monetary Union). So, basically not a completely new slogan, at least not for a protest party.

Old Men’s Club
The most visible difference between the AfD and other German protest parties, like the Pirates, is its members. While the Pirate Party is mostly dominated by younger people, it’s the exact opposite with the AfD. Their steering committee is marked by a dominance of elderly gentlemen with high academic degrees. Most notable, all of them are economists.

Who’s going to be their voters? Unlike the Pirates, the AfD establishes its main bias from “disappointed” voters of the conservative CDU or the liberal FDP – voters who have been “disappointed” by the course of the current government regarding economic policy implementation and the Euro crisis management.  Alexander Gauland, co-founder of the AfD – considers himself to be one of these disappointed ones.

While the party was founding itself in Berlin, a little glance at the supporters’ list unveils an interesting detail of their background, making a Ph.D. title essential to be a supporter of the party, or even a professor’s title. Above all, it makes the AfD a technocrats’ club only.

Intellectual right-wingers?
Calling for a return to the former German currency sounds like a typical demand from any right wing party. The logical consequence is, of course, that the AfD will start queuing with all the other smaller right wing extremist parties at the line for a complete Euro withdrawal. Even though potential right wingers were instantly excluded from the AfD’s founding congress, there is plenty of potential for such a tendency. One of them is 71-years old Korad Adam, an expert in the field of education who has published an article in the right wing weekly newspaper “Junge Freiheit”.

Polemic agenda setting is quintessentially a starting point for future extremist tendencies, even if a new party has an academic background. Unlike most protest parties, the AfD sets its political agenda most exclusively on economics. But all economic agenda is useless as long as there is no one who is young enough and “not too academic” to promote it. The AfD can consider itself happy to have one of these: Bernd Lucke, professor for macroeconomics at Hamburg University, is the designated public figure for the AfD and apparently the only one who can communicate the agenda in a non-too-academic-way, who understands modern political communication and to present the AfD in public.

The question remains: will it help?

Yobbo protests without substance
All German protests parties have in essence the same problems. They suffer from a mere lack of long-term policy agenda setting which survives individual elections. That was specifically the case with the Pirates Party. A sudden and unexpected hype was followed by an utter organizational chaos, political and human immaturity and a personnel vacuum which in the end led to the literal sinking of the Pirates.

Not mentioning smaller right wing extremist parties, which are levelling on the brink of illegality and only have one objective in mind: the complete eradication of democratic and European Germany. It is the same with the far more dangerous NPD which is still subject for on current banning discussions, but without any further progress neither from a political, nor from a legal point of view. In the end, it is apparent that the NPD will abolish itself through simple financial bankruptcy.

In term of protest party only the Left-wing Party (“Die Linke”) can actually provide some basis for a sustainable alternative – if you want to consider them as a protest party after all. Like others, the “Linke” also advocates against the EU, but not in economic and national terms, rather in social terms. It has, however, one significant flaw: it is sometimes regarded as an “established party” due to its vast electoral basis in East Germany and its membership to the Bundestag.

Once successful, no longer protest
The same effect applies to the Green Party. Having partly revolutionized the German party system after their unexpected win at the 1983 federal elections, it has turned into an established opposition party with temporary government assignments as coalition partner on a national and regional level. From a pure protest perspective, the contemporary Green Party is completely free of any remaining protest movements or ideas.

Naturally, disappointed members or voters look for alternatives, taking the risk into account that their new votes won’t have any significant impact at all. This is a risk every new party has to face, especially if it should be successful. The trouble is, however, that you can only have sustainable success if you adapt to the established parties. But then they’re no longer a protest party.

The chaos makers
Straight to the point: the AfD won’t stand a chance to achieve any seats in the Bundestag for the general election in September this year. But still, it might have an effect on the possible majority constellations after all. Even if the AfD achieved around 3 or 4 % of the overall votes and remains out of the Parliament (due to the minimum requirement of 5 %), it could – in a worst case scenario – even cost Angela Merkel her government.

If the AfD manages to pull voters from the CDU and the FDP, it will be far more difficult to continue the current Black-Yellow-Coalition and could in fact cost Merkel the chancellorship. The result will be prolonged coalition negotiations and possibly a change of government and politics in Germany after eight years of Merkel administration. Merkel’s adversary, Peer Steinbrück and the SPD, are already waiting for this to happen.

No Beppe in sight
The AfD and all the other protest parties have one major deficit: they’re not even remotely comparable to Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star-Movement in Italy which achieved a spectacular triumph at the last general elections. None of the German “protest” parties has the same movement or the same leader as the 5-Star-Movement, and none of them will be as successful.

The Pirates have been sunk, the NPD is nearly dead, and the “Linke” has no reasonable perspective for power. It is questionable if a bunch of elderly technocrats and professors can make any difference whatsoever.

They won’t be an alternative, at least not on a real national scale – at least not for reasonable voters. But in the end, protest parties gain votes from unreasonable protest voters, and there are more of them than you think.

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