By Apsara Senaratne
European politics has entered a new era of far-right political parties and a stagnant economy. The skepticism directed towards the European Union and the exploitation of the migration crisis are quickly gaining political successes throughout Europe, Germany in particular.
Despite Germany’s previous lack of a substantial right-wing party (despite the intensive efforts of Nazis and neo-Nazis to create one), the country has since experienced a shift in political culture, and with it the development of a right-wing populist party. The group which calls itself Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has made its way into mainstream politics, establishing a name for itself as the third strongest force in German Parliament.
However, it is incorrect to compare individuals of this group to Nazi extremists. AfD does not, as perpetuated by some media outlets, attract only “fanatical” right-wing voters. In the New York Times’ article “Europe’s Rising Far Right: A Guide to the Most Prominent Parties,” the authors cite Sylke Tempel of the German Council on Foreign Regulations as having stated that AfD tends to appeal towards voters who are “anti-establishment, anti-liberalization, anti-European, anti-everything that has come to be regarded as the norm.”
The anger of the general population, rather than the agreement with particular ideologies of the AfD, was the driving force behind the significant amount of votes cast for the populist party. According to a poll from German state television, only 34% of voters were certain of their vote for AfD, while most other voters simply cast their vote for the party due to their unwillingness to vote for other parties.
The symptoms of the steady decline of social democracy are beginning to be put on open display. The most prominent center-left and center-right parties have begun to run the risk of rapid decline, with the CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany/Christian Social Union in Bavaria) losing 8.5 points since 2013 and the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) losing 5, according to NBC.
In other European countries, a similar form of decay is occurring. The Italian PSI (Italian Socialist Party) has all but disappeared; the Socialist party of France recently suffered a major loss; and Scandinavia, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands are all facing similar situations. However, one may find that both Britain and the U.S. are not too far away from reaching Europe’s predicament with Britain’s June election involving Labour’s near-victory over May, and President Trump’s failure to criticize white supremacists after bouts of violence and even murder.
One may ask, how exactly did the transformation from Socialist to Populist happen with such alarming alacrity? The answer is simple: a rise in the percentage of individuals classified as working class had once contributed to the increase of power of Social Democrats, but that percentage has since dropped, resulting in more dissatisfaction and a smaller support base for the left.
Further dissatisfaction stems from the fading vision of an all-providing country, which is especially significant due to the government taking in roughly 50% of GDP and the people’s unwillingness to pay higher taxes with relatively low incomes, according to the Economist.
Despite the rise of the AfD, however, Germany’s custom of gender and minority advocacy and its significant dependence upon outside exports have prevented both extreme border-control measures and legislative discrimination, making it seem as if Germany does not have the capability to break from tradition just yet.