Alternative for Germany

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Alternative for Germany Logo, Google Images licensed with Creative Commons

Alternative for Germany (German: Alternative für Deutschland, Afd) is a populist ‘fast-growing’ anti-refugee and Eurosceptic party[1] founded in 2013.[2]



According to the Wall Street Journal in January 2015, AfD 'managed to avoid the Nazi label stuck to other right-wing German parties thanks in part to its image as a group founded by sober professors opposed to eurozone bailouts rather than by nationalist rabble-rousers'.[3]

Frauke Petry on 30 January 2015. Credit:Metropolico

Since then however, the party has increasing shifted towards the right and a hardline anti-refugee stance under the leadership of a 40-year-old Christian chemist and mother-of-four Frauke Petry. She took over in July 2015, prompting co-founders Bernd Lucke and Konrad Adam to quit the party because of the increasing polarisation between factions over direction away from Lucke's original economic focus. Moreover, the dramatically lower influx of refugees due to the closure of borders around Europe has prompted the AfD to shift its campaign agenda to one of stopping the 'Islamification' of Germany.

Its anti-euro policy echoes the Euroscepticism of other right-wing parties in Europe, especially the French National Front (FN), the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Austria's Freedom Party (FPÖ). The AfD argues that more powers must be returned to nation states, opposing all 'centralising' moves in the EU, and anything that approaches 'Euro-federalism'. If the EU fails to reform and continues centralising, AfD claims it will seek to pull Germany out of the EU. In another echo of anti-EU parties, the AfD argues that elite, establishment politicians are too remote from ordinary voters, and that more policies should be decided by Swiss-style referendums. [4]

In February 2016 Petry attracted wide condemnation after remarking that refugees should be shot at Germany's borders. She later tried to claim the press had lied about this however an audio-recording of the interview in which she had said this was released by Rhein-Zeitung. [5]


In its March 2016 manifesto, the party called for a ban on minarets, Muslim calls to prayer, burqas and halal slaughter. [6] [7]It also contained policies that, to some, are reminiscent of the Nazi regime, including incentivising German women to have three or more children, imprisoning drug addicts and people with mental health issues who did not respond to therapy. [8]

In November 2016 the party released a new policy pledging to cut all financial aid for refugees and to change the law to stop family members from joining them. It recommended holding people of 'uncertain identity' in offshore camps away from Europe until their rights of passage are sorted. The camps would be in north Africa, Turkey, western Syria and Libya and overseen by the EU. The policy prompted accusations of closeness to Nazi discourse. [9]

Attitudes towards PEGIDA

Alexander Gauland, described as a 'party elder' by The Economist[2], has declared the AfD ‘the natural allies' of the anti-Islam PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West) movement and said he would attend a demonstration in December 2014[1]. He has also called for a stop to the migration into Germany of Muslims from the Middle East who 'aren’t willing or able to integrate'.[3]

A party leader Bernd Lucke has, according to the Daily Telegraph, called it 'good and right' that people were expressing their fears by demonstrating with PEGIDA and has written that the movement was 'a sign that these people do not feel their concerns are understood by politicians'.[10] This has been interpreted as indicating support for PEGIDA since other German politicians have strongly condemned the demonstrations. The other two leaders Frauke Petry and Konrad Adam are also said to 'sympathise' with PEGIDA.[2]

An Economist straw poll found that support was strong in the other direction: the magazine suggested 9 out of 10 supporters of PEGIDA would back AfD.[2] But some sources also suggest that AfD has 'faced internal division' over some of its members backing PEGIDA.[11]

Deputy leader and MEP, Hans-Olaf Henkel, reportedly called on party members not to join the demonstrators, saying there could be 'xenophobic or even racist connotations'[10] and reportedly wants the party only to retain an anti-euro message rather than use what The Economist calls 'populist innuendo against asylum-seekers, immigrants and homosexuals'.[2]

However, members such as Björn Höcke, who heads the party's branch in the state of Thuringia in the former East, have been known to use the anti-Islamization PEGIDA marches, concentrated in the eastern city of Dresden, as a platform for gaining support. According to Johannes Radke, a journalist and long-term observer of right-wing politics, 'The AfD is very good at getting people who are on the streets [with PEGIDA] to go and vote for them'. [12]

It has become common to see AfD placards calling for government figures to be lynched as punishment, just as during Pegida rallies. In January 2016, an AfD functionary called for the death penalty to be introduced so that the government could be 'placed against a wall' and shot. [13]

After AfD MP Hans-Thomas Tillschneider spoke at a PEGIDA rally in May 2016, Lutz Bachmann invited the co-leader Frauke Petry to do the same, adding 'these are your voters, Frauke, and you have to be here'. [14]

In mid-December 2016, AfD MP Andreas Wild attended a PEGIDA rally in Dresden and praised the 'patriotic' anti-Islamic movement. He said: 'I think Pegida is a bold movement of patriotic Germans who show the world that Germans want to have their own state. [..] Germans want to have their habits and the Germans want Germany as their home country and not an Islamic state, which some people are planning to build in Germany.[..] [O]n the streets we need you, and we need AfD in the parliament.' [15]


Many analysts have argued that Angela Merkel - in her capacity as German chancellor and head of the conservative Christian Democratic Party (CDU) - is to blame for the AfD's emergence. By giving the CDU a more centrist makeover, leaving space at the right fringes, be it the nuclear power phase-out or the discontinuation of compulsory military service, she allegedly disconcerted voters who saw the pillars of their conservative view of the world shaken to the core. [16]


For a long time, the established parties tried to ignore the AfD, hoping it would dissolve in another round of internal fighting. The German media only focused on the AfD in connection with the party's far right radical tendencies or its domestic disputes. The AfD resorted to slamming the press with a slogan adopted from the Pegida movement: "Lügenpresse" (lying press), which has echoes of the Nazi era. [16]

The party benefits from the support of doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs, especially at a local level. A glance at the top AfD candidates in the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania vote mirrors the party's clientele. In northeastern Germany, the AfD is turning into a threat to the CDU and the liberal FDP. [16]

A man reportedly involved in organising the activities of both Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) and the more violent Hooligans Against Salafists (HoGeSa)[17], was, some sources claimed, a lawyer and member of AfD.[18]

European Parliament

In May 2014, AfD had seven candidates gain seats in the European parliament. Its MEPs include deputy leader Hans-Olaf Henkel.[19]

In February 2016, the AfD started cooperating with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) under the Blue Alliance, prompting the Euro Conservative group (ECR) to exclude the AfD from their group in April. [20]


In June 2016, the party split over anti-semitic remarks expressed by Wolfgang Gedeon, a regional law-maker. Thirteen members of the party — including the regional president Jörg Meuthen— quit and form a new alliance called Alternative for Baden-Württemberg. [21]



In 2015 AfD was represented in three eastern state parliaments.[2]. In January, the party was said to be 'polling at around 6 per cent', a level which, if sustained 'would clear the 5 per cent threshold for seats in parliament in several critical state elections next year and in the federal parliament in 2017'.[3]In February 2015 it won 6.1 per cent of the vote in the elections for the state parliament of Hamburg, enough to gain it representation for the first time in the Western part of Germany, an important symbolic victory and sign that its support was becoming more mainstream.[19]


In March 2016, the AfD managed to enter all three state parliaments during regional elections, gaining 24.2 per cent of votes in Saxony-Anhalt - making it the second largest party after the CDU- 12.6 per cent in Rhineland-Palatinate, and 15.1 per cent in Baden-Württemberg. [22] Its dramatic gains were reportedly won 'off the back of rising anger with Angela Merkel’s asylum policy'. [23]

Regional elections

In September the party received about 21 per cent of votes in the eastern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region, beating Merkel's party, the CDU, who came third with 19 per cent, in her own home region. Frauke Petry said her party's success in the state election was a result of Merkel's 'catastrophic migration policies'. In that region, the issue of refugees and integration had become the deciding factor for one in three voters. [24]

It received 14.1 per cent of the vote in Berlin's state assembly, successfully entering its tenth regional assembly out of 16 German states. The election in Berlin, a city-state of 3.5 million people, was dominated by local issues including poor public services, crumbling school buildings, late trains and a housing shortage, as well as problems in coping with the migrant influx. [25]

In total, Cas Mudde's statistics show that:

'The only constant in all state elections is that the far right AfD wins. However, the differences in the size of the victories of the AfD are almost as striking as the consistency of its success. The AfD score ranges from 24.2% in Saxony-Anhalt to (a predicted) 12.6% in Rhineland-Palatinate. Overall the AfD scores better in the East than the West.' [26]

Moreover, the AfD seems to have won votes from all parties, not just from Merkel's CDU: in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region, it gained 23.000 votes from the CDU, only 16.5% of the total AfD vote. The Left lost 18.000 votes (13% of AfD vote) and the SPD 16.000 (11.5%), and most of the retrieved votes came from non-voters (56.000 or 40%). [26]


The Berlin gains represent new territory for the AfD - previous successes have been in impoverished areas of the former communist east. Hence, the results prompted commentators to reflect on the party's 'marginal' position. Because of the known 'multiculturalism' of Berlin's culture, some believe that an AfD victory there could that the party 'doesn't just benefit from discontent in rural areas but can establish itself ... in a city of millions that is known for its open lifestyle'. Berlin's mayor warned that a strong AfD result would be 'seen throughout the world as a sign of the resurgence of the right and of Nazis in Germany.' [27]

In his analysis of the elections, Cas Mudde claimed that the rise of the AfD signifies the end of the two-party system in Germany. Results from the 2016 elections and opinion polls for the federal level show the country has developed into a true multi-party system in which more than two parties will structurally be involved in the coalition formation process. [26]

Angela Merkel's party lost much of its hold during these elections, which was seen as a 'bitter disappointment' for her. On the same weekend, she appeared to shift her position on migration when she distanced herself from a phrase used at the height of the influx of migrants in August 2015, "Wir schaffen das" (we will manage it). She now saw it as dated and too much had been read into it: 'so much so that I'd prefer not to repeat it because it's become something of a simplified motto, an empty formula'. [25]



In January 2015, the party had three leaders:

  • Bernd Lucke - joint party leader in January 2015[2] until 8 July 2015.
  • Frauke Petry - joint party leader in January 2015[2] sole leader from July 2015.
  • Konrad Adam - joint party leader in January 2015[2] until July 2015.


Former members


Government subsidy loophole

In Germany, electoral rules state that the federal government must match, up to a value of €5 million, any funds raised privately by a political party. In a bid to get the full allocation of state funding, AfD went through a loophole by selling gold bullion online since November 2014. In the two weeks after the scheme was announced they sold gold coins and bars worth 1.6 million euros. [28] By boosting its income via its gold trade, the AfD ensured that it was entitled to extra subsidies even though the profit was marginal.

In December 2015, the new party funding law was passed, altering the regulation so that only profit, rather than turnover, was eligible for the state subsidy, drastically slashing the AfD's income. The party's deputy leader Beatrix von Storch claimed that the alteration meant the AfD would lose two million euros that same year, and immediately issued an emergency call for a 100-euro donation from each of its 20,000 members. [29]


  • German Defence League: In September 2016, AfD Chair Georg Pazderski admited that Kay Nerstheimer, newly-elected AfD parliamentarian for Berlin’s eastern Lichtenberg district, was a member of the extremist right-wing, anti-Islam group German Defence League. Nerstheimer allegedly ended his activities with the group after it came under surveillance in 2013 by Germany’s domestic security agency. The newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported that Nerstheimer’s extremist views did not start nor end with the German Defence League, as he has repeatedly posted Facebook messages glorifying the Nazi time, trivializing the acts of Nazi war criminals, and using certain phrases often espoused by the Third Reich in recent years.

In a post dating January 2016, Kay Nerstheimer had called the asylum seekers coming to Germany an 'illegal invasion' and referred to refugees as 'the parasites that feed on the juices of the German people'. The Chair said that the AfD would look into his past and 'find a solution', leader Frauke Petry would not say whether they would consider dismissing him from the party. [30]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Adam Withnall, Germany sees 'visible rise' in support for far-right extremism in response to perceived 'Islamisation' of the West, The Independent, 15 December 2014, accessed 5 Jan 2015
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Gone boy on the right, The Economist, 24 January 2015
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Anton Troianovski, Upstart German Party Considers Anti-Islam Stance], Wall Street Journal, 28 January 2015
  4. 'What does Alternative for Germany (AfD) want?', BBC News, 05 September 2016. Accessed 15 September 2016.
  5. Lügenpresse? AfD-Chefin Frauke Petry schreibt ihr Interview dreist um, 4 February 2016, accessed 14 March 2016
  6. Kate Connolly 'Frauke Petry: the acceptable face of Germany’s new right?' - The Guardian, 19 June 2016. Accessed 14 September 2016.
  7. Elisabeth Schumacher, 'German populists AfD adopt anti-Islam manifesto' Die Welt, 1 May 2016. Accessed 14 September 2016.
  8. Brenna Daldorph, 'Frauke 'Adolfina' Petry: the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam threat to Merkel', France 24, 05 September 2016. Accessed 15 September 2016.
  9. Alan Hall, German far-right party outlines plan to solve migrant crisis, The Times, 03 November 2016. Accessed 03 November 2016.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Justin Huggler, German Eurosceptics embrace anti-Islam protests, Daily Telegraph, 10 December 2014
  11. PEGIDA leader Kathrin Oertel resigns one week after founder quits, CBC/Reuters, 28 January, accessed 2 February
  12. Elizabeth Schumacher 'Activists try to sabotage AfD funding as populists rise in polls' DW, 11 December 2015. Accessed 13 September 2016.
  13. Kate Connolly, 'Frauke Petry: smiling face of Germany’s resurgent right', The Guardian, 07 February 2016. Accessed September 15 2015.
  14. Chris Tomlinson, PEGIDA’s Bachmann Salutes America, Invites AfD Leader Petry To Speak, Breitbart, 16 November 2016. accessed November 28 2016.
  15. AJAY NAIR, 'Germany NOT an Islamic state' Anti-immigration rally takes place day before Berlin attack, Express, December 20 2016. Accessed December 20 2016.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Kay-Alexander Scholz, 'What is the Alternative for Germany?, Die Weit, 05 September 2016. Accessed 15 September 2016. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "whatis" defined multiple times with different content
  17. The end of tolerance? Anti-Muslim movement rattles Germany, Spiegel Online International, 21 December 2014, accessed 5 January 2015
  18. Anti-Islamization protests expand in Germany, Die Welt, 7 December 2014, accessed 6 January 2015
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Peter Teffer, Anti-euro party AfD enters state parliament in Hamburg, EU Observer, 16 February 2015
  20. Julie Levy-Abegnoli, ''ECR group moves to expel extreme right AfD MEPs' The Parliament Magazine, 9 March 2016. Accessed 14 September 2016.
  21. Cynthia Kroet, Germany’s far-right AfD split over anti-Semitism, Politico, 07 June 2016. Accessed 12 September 2016.
  22. Anon. German state elections: Success for right-wing AfD, losses for Merkel's CDU, DW, 13 March 2016. Accessed 13 September 2016.
  23. Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Anti-refugee AfD party makes big gains in German state elections,, 13 March 2016 accessed same day
  24. 'Germany: AfD beats Angela Merkel's party in state vote', Al Jazeera, 04 September 2016. Accessed 15 September 2016.
  25. 25.0 25.1 'Berlin state poll: Losses for Merkel's CDU, gains for AfD', BBC News, 19 September 2016. Accessed 19 September 2016.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Cas Mudde, 'The Berlin Elections Confirm That The Transformation of German Politics Goes Well Beyond “AfD v Merkel”', The Huffington Post, 19 September 2016. Accessed 19 September 2016.
  27. 'Social Democrats receive most votes in Berlin election, AfD enters state assembly', Deutsche Welle, 18 September 2016. Accessed 19 September 2016.
  28. Mark O'Byrne, 'Germany's Third Largest Political Party Sells €1.6 Million of Gold In Two Weeks', Goldcore, 04 November 2014. Accessed 13 September 2016.
  29. Ben Knight, 'After the gold rush: AfD loses state subsidies', Die Welt, 18 December 2015. Accessed 13 September 2016.
  30. New AfD Berlin senator: Nazi civilian killings were 'legal', The Local, 21 September 2016. Accessed 07 October 2016.