- - Sunday, January 8, 2017

BERLIN — Europe’s far-right political movements have carved out an undeniable foothold, and their leaders in France, the Netherlands and elsewhere are looking gleefully to upcoming elections, believing Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the U.S. will only increase the populist momentum bolstered by the successful Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom last summer.

But in Germany, some think Mr. Trump will have the opposite effect: Mainstream German political parties have reported jumps in memberships in the wake of the U.S. election.

Germans have labeled the trend the “Trump effect.”

“Many people are realizing how important it is to commit themselves to democracy and social cohesion, considering that right-wing nationalism is becoming louder and louder in Europe and in the world,” said Katarina Barley, general secretary of the center-left Social Democrats.

Germany’s Social Democrats — which forms a governing grand coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats — received more than 1,850 membership applications in November. That was almost double the rate of new members in October, said party spokesman Julian Lange.

“The number of new applicants was especially high directly following the election,” he said.

Germany’s opposition Green Party received 114 online applications on Nov. 9 and an additional 145 in the week after Election Day, far more than is the norm, officials said.

“We’re always hearing from our newest members that they’re becoming politically involved with the Greens because the charge of right-wing nationalists is shifting our democracy,” said Green Party spokesman Simon Zunk.

Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats welcomed 945 more members in November despite a dip last month that some attribute to the unpopularity of her open-door refugee policy that allowed in 1 million refugees in 2015.

Still, analysts say, the Berlin establishment needs all the support it can get. In line with European trends, Germany’s far-right party Alternative for Germany experienced unprecedented momentum last year. In September, it even defeated the Christian Democrats in regional elections in Ms. Merkel’s home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

The AfD emerged in 2013 as a party of rebellious political elites contesting Germany’s role in the eurozone. But its policy platform pivoted rightward in mid-2015 with the ascent of Frauke Petry to the top spot of party leadership.

Ms. Petry’s sharp yet understated insinuations about the declining state of Germany’s cultural values have electrified disenfranchised, working-class Germans who feel long ignored by traditional politics. At the same time, her political enemies have named her “Adolfina” and “die Fuehrerin.”

Ms. Merkel’s refugee policies — and attacks blamed on foreigners in the past year — further solidified the AfD’s rightward swing. The Petry-led AfD has blamed Merkel policies for the spate of terrorist attacks in Germany — the latest on a Christmas market in Berlin.

“When will the German state of law strike back?” Marcus Pretzell, an AfD member of the European Parliament, tweeted after the Dec. 19 attack left 12 dead and 50 injured. “When will this cursed hypocrisy finally stop? These are Merkel’s dead!”

That kind of rhetoric has helped the AfD land seats in 10 out of Germany’s 16 powerful state legislatures.

Still, some analysts view the success of the AfD as an anomaly in a country where voters are cognizant of the nation’s troubled history with populism and xenophobia — specifically how the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party has never been able to garner enough votes to enter the federal parliament. The analysts said that many voters are ready to mobilize against far-right nationalists.

Germany is not a society that likes experiments,” said Ralf Welt, a managing partner at Dicomm Advisers, a political consultancy and communications agency in Berlin. “The AfD may be an exception to the rule in presenting itself as far-right on the political spectrum. But it still exists within Germany’s democratic framework.”

To be able to enter parliament this year, the AfD will need to garner more than 5 percent of the national vote, a constitutional safeguard against fringe parties gaining power that was implemented after the rise of Nazism from obscurity before World War II.

According to an INSA poll, the AfD is polling nationally at 14 percent, far above the electoral fail safe.

Meanwhile, the AfD continues to grow on average by 50 members each month, a spokesman confirmed.

“The positive trend in our membership numbers hasn’t been broken,” said Georg Pazderski, co-leader of the AfD faction in Berlin. “Our enormous reception rests on the political failures of the establishment and the large vacuum that they’ve allowed to arise within the middle class.”

Still, Mr. Welt said the party’s anti-establishment agenda will take it only so far. As the party increasingly legitimizes itself, it risks alienating its base, he said.

“The AfD may continue to get support from protest voters, but it’s not sustainable,” said Mr. Welt.

Max Raudszus, 25, a student at Humboldt University in Berlin, said he is nonetheless wary.

Pollsters failed to predict Britain’s vote to exit the European Union or Mr. Trump’s triumph in the U.S. They also might be wrong when they classify the AfD’s rise as a fluke, he said.

“We’ve tried time and again to ignore the right-wing movement,” said Mr. Raudszus, who said he supports Germany’s Greens.

“If the United States really moves to the right, as appears to be the case, that means it’s more important than ever for me to cast my vote. Now is the time to really get engaged.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide