Thursday, 4 September 2014

Merkel's CDU and Alternativ fuer Deutschland: the Saxon result

The euro-skeptic (rather than Euroskeptic) German party Alternativ fuer Deutschland won almost 10% of the vote in the state elections in Saxony, coming in ahead of the Green Party. The win has been a big boost for the party, propelling it into the Saxon Landtag while the liberal FDP and far-right NDP drop out as they didn't win enough votes to clear the threshold for entry.

The rise of the AfD has been reported on elsewhere on how it could impact Angela Merkel's CDU and her EU policy (it's hard to imagine even 5 years ago so much interest being shown in a German state election). But I don't see the result as one that would pressure the CDU to take a more Euroskeptic stance. It's important to note two facts when thinking about the AfD's impact on the CDU: that the CDU has retained almost 40% of the vote, its percentage dropping only slightly since the last election, and the turnout was very low at 49%.

Concern over the "splintering of the right" in Germany is another angle that's being reported on, but it also looks a bit overblown - the last federal elections saw the economically right-wing FDP party lose all their seats, with the CDU the largest beneficiary - a huge consolidation on the right, at least federally. In some ways the AfD, with its economically right-wing positions, is starting to fill the political vacuum left by the decline of the FDP.

Of course, the AfD is not the FDP: it's a protest party and hard to pin down on many of its positions, but its leadership is on the economic right and it has attracted a socially conservative membership who may have been former CDU supporters disappointed that the CDU has become socially more centrist (though there are still plenty of socially conservative voices in the CDU too). Saxony is also a state that has seen support for the far-right NDP, a nationalist party that is periodically the subject of banning attempts. So it makes sense that the AfD took votes from the FDP and a small number from the NDP (not to mention that it would be more respectable to vote for the AfD than the nationalist NDP). Oddly for a protest party, it looks like those who voted for it in Saxony are largely satisfied with their own economic position.

The CDU has kept its distance from the AfD, leaving the Social Democrats and the Greens as its two possible coalition partners for the state government, and a similar stance is being taken on the federal level. Its euro-skeptic stance and protest party style makes it an unsuitable and probably unstable coalition partner, and a coalition with it could toxify the CDU when it is the biggest of the 2 big tent parties and is comfortable with coalitions with the centre-left. The rising profile of the AfD could boost the socially conservative and anti-transfer union voices in the CDU, but at the moment the AfD hasn't actually eaten into the CDU's vote to a significant degree. And it should be remembered that the CDU is in coalition with the Social Democrats at the moment - a party that would like to ease austerity in Europe - so Merkel's government is probably relatively insulated from the AfD's politics.

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