The far-right Alternative for Germany is flying high in nationwide polls. Currently the AfD is sharpening its profile by attacking the Green Party’s climate policies.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been in an uproar for weeks. According to the opposition party, the policies of the federal government are not only failing, but a threat to peace and prosperity.
The far-right party positions itself for confrontation in almost all areas of policy: When it comes to the war in Ukraine, the AfD calls for peace negotiations instead of weapons deliveries. For migration, the party advocates tightening the borders instead of recruiting skilled workers.
Above all, the far-right populist party is currently portraying itself as an aggressive opponent to the government’s energy and climate policy. Germany’s current government is a coalition between the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), and environmentalist Greens. The AfD’s parliamentary group leader in the German federal Bundestag, Alice Weidel, argues that the government’s plans would “impoverish” the people. The plans to convert home heating systems to renewable energy are for her no less than a “heating massacre.” She told a press conference: “People who cannot afford it will have to sell their houses.”
Emotions more important than facts
The AfD’s rejection of climate protection measures surpasses those of many other European far-right parties, observes Christoph Richter from the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society (IDZ), based in the eastern German city of Jena: “The party doubts fundamental scientific findings about man-made climate change and therefore considers corresponding climate protection measures to be pointless.”
The IDZ is currently researching how right-wing populists and extremists in Europe and the US are handling the ecological crisis.
The AfD’s own climate protection policy is straightforward: Yes to fossil fuels and nuclear energy, no to wind power.
Richter points out that the AfD is trying to capitalize on emotions.
“We see with the AfD that they target the areas in which the population holds the most reservations and fears,” Richter said. “For example, they have latched onto regional anti-wind energy campaigns.”
The Greens have become the new prime target for the AfD. Their plan for a climate-friendly and diverse Germany is anathema to the right-wing party, which considers it a blueprint for the country’s demise.
And the strategy seems to be working for them: Opinion polls show the AfD is the strongest party in three eastern German federal states (which used to be part of East Germany before reunification) that are due to hold regional elections next year.
The voter bases of the Greens and the AfD seem to be poles apart in many areas of policy. That is observed by German pollsters Infratest Dimap, whose surveys show that two-thirds of Greens supporters believe climate protection measures are happening too slowly, while more than half of AfD voters feel they are moving too fast.
Richter sees the European right-wing parties as united in their rejection of climate protection measures: “They are united by their interest in maintaining the current uneven distribution between the industrialized countries and other countries, especially the Global South, because the European industrialized countries benefit from this disparity.”
Political opponents as bogeymen
Since it was founded, the AfD has targeted a variety of parties, portraying them as bogeymen. When the AfD launched in 2013 its favorite opponent was the libertarian, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and their policies on European debt. When the FDP was ousted from the Bundestag after failing to reach the 5% threshold in the 2013 election, the AfD rejoiced uninhibitedly.
Then the party set its sights on the Christian Democrats (CDU) and their leader, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her refugee policies energized the AfD and the party capitalized on them, gaining significant support and election success, especially in the eastern German states. Merkel is gone, and now the AfD is focusing on a new bogeyman: The Greens.
The fact that the far-right party appears to be succeeding with its strategy also has a lot to do with the weakness of the other parties, Richter observed.
“The relevant factor of the success of the AfD campaigns is that their narrative is also being picked up by mainstream society,” he said. “This could ultimately damage the established parties and climate protection.”