Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

German Far-Right AfD Is in Parliament. Now What?

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Alternative for Germany emerged as the third-strongest political force in the country’s national election in September. The anti-immigration, anti-Islam party’s entry into the Bundestag showed that Europe’s biggest economy isn’t immune to the populism that has shaped policies in neighboring European Union countries. Attention has since shifted away from the AfD as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to build her fourth-term coalition took center stage since October. After lawmakers return to Berlin on Nov. 20 for their fall session, giving the new opposition party its biggest political platform yet, this may change.

1. How strong is AfD in parliament?

It won 12.6 percent of the votes in the Sept. 24 election, which translates into 94 of the 709 seats for the first far-right party in the Bundestag since immediately after World War II. Following the election, AfD co-leader Frauke Petry, who had won one of the seats, quit the party, calling it too radical to appeal to broad swaths of the population. She took one other defector with her. That leaves the AfD with 92 lawmakers in the national parliament. It’s also represented in 14 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments.

2. What has AfD done so far?

It stayed true to its anti-euro roots in its first parliamentary motion at the end of October, calling on the government to challenge past European Central Bank bond purchases in court and seek an end to further asset-buying. The AfD alleges that the European Central Bank’s “enormous” bond purchase programs, which helped the euro survive at the height of the debt crisis, exceed limits set by Germany’s constitutional court. AfD lawmakers also urged the government to start negotiations with the Syrian government on a repatriation agreement for its refugees who have found shelter in Germany.

3. What are its goals in parliament?

One of the party’s first missions will be to seek a parliamentary inquiry into Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis, which would run for months and include the power to demand testimony. The party can be expected to file motions that match the key points of its election platform, which called for the immediate closing of Germany’s borders to stop “unregulated mass immigration,” a reframing of Germany’s liberal political-asylum rules to serve what it says is the national interest, a referendum on leaving the euro and the lifting of economic sanctions on Russia. None of the initiatives is likely to find a majority.

4. Has AfD’s presence caused any discord?

During the Bundestag’s first session after the election, AfD caucus whip Bernd Baumann attacked the main parties for changing parliamentary rules so that the longest-serving legislator, rather than the oldest, was given the honor of opening the proceedings. That meant the honor didn’t go to an AfD member. Baumann drew criticism from other parties for comparing the move to tricks played by Nazi Reichstag President Hermann Goering in 1933. The AfD’s candidate for the office of a deputy parliament president, Albrecht Glaser, was rejected in three votes on the grounds that his views on Islam are incompatible with Germany’s constitution.

5. Who are the party’s leaders?

After Petry’s defection, the party is led by Joerg Meuthen, an economics professor from the south-western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, who has shifted his focus from criticizing the ECB to slamming Merkel’s migration policy. The caucus in the Bundestag is led by Alexander Gauland, who helped run the Hesse state chancellery when he was a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and Alice Weidel, a consultant who holds a Ph.D. in business administration and is in a same-sex relationship with two children.

Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland.

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

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