Hot off the press – After the German election: the spectre of the far right in Europe?

Saturday 28 October, 16:0017:15, Free StageHot off the press

‘We will hunt them! We will hunt Mrs Merkel and we will take our country and our people back again’, cried Alexander Gauland of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) as the party became Germany’s third largest in the Bundestag after September’s elections. The Eurosceptic, anti-Islamic group took 12.6 per cent of votes and holds 94 of the federal parliament’s 709 seats – a surprise success linked to capitalising on the backlash against the Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policy. Protesters pounded the streets outside the AfD’s Berlin headquarters, decrying the ‘rise of the right’ as they resisted the ‘bad populism’ that continues to sweep through Europe.

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel was bruised by the vote. She limped into a fourth term as chancellor with her conservative bloc’s worst-ever result. Votes for the CDU/CSU were down almost 10 per cent, and their longstanding coalition partner, the SPD, also lost a humiliating five per cent before cutting coalition ties. Martin Schulz, the SPD’s leader and supposed saviour, vowed: ‘Tonight, our cooperation ends with the CDU and CSU’, marking what some have called a collapse of mainstream politics in Germany.

Reassuring the German people, Merkel admitted: ‘We had hoped for a better result’, but added: ‘We, the CDU and the CSU, are the strongest force!’ However, with plans for a Conservative/SPD alliance in tatters, the Chancellor is now expected to form what could be a chaotic coalition with the business-loving Free Democrats and the Greens. Some predict the partnership could take months to materialise, leaving the country politically vulnerable to growing nationalist sentiment.

Is Germany the latest EU country to shift towards the radical right? Should we also be worried about Austria? Or, is the threat of ‘bad populism’ exaggerated? Has the rise of the AfD irreversibly changed the political landscape in the country, or can Merkel cobble together a working coalition with ideologically opposed parties? Do the election results show Germany is becoming more Eurosceptic, and what does this mean for the EU?