Following Elections, U.S. Government Should Focus on Rise of Far Right in Germany

By Susan Corke and Timothy Meyers

The U.S. government should view the results of this weekend’s elections in Germany as a wakeup call. They show that a far-right presence in Germany’s political system is no longer a hypothetical concern, but a new reality.

Alternative for Germany (AfD), a harsh critic of Chancellor Merkel’s humane policies towards refugees, argues that Germany should close its borders. It won a surprising percentage of the vote in three states, winning nearly a quarter in Saxony-Anhalt. Merkel should not allow these results to stop her from protecting the rights of refugees, and the United States should support her.

Several far-right political parties—such as Hungary’s Jobbik, France’s National Front, and Greece’s Golden Dawn—have ascended across Europe in the past decade. But the rise of AfD is especially alarming because Germany dominates Europe’s economic and political sphere, representing the lynchpin of the European Union.

AfD party head Frauke Petry, who has advocated shooting refugees attempting to cross Germany’s borders, celebrated the results. “This election shows that numerous voters are turning their backs on well-established parties,” she said. She also declared that AfD was a “pan-German” party because it now held seats in both the eastern and western halves of the country.

Admitting that the weekend’s elections were a “terrible day” for her party, Chancellor Merkel added that AfD was indeed a “problem” but not an “existential threat” for Germany. There is already speculation that Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party may attempt to create new coalitions on both the state and national level in an effort to undercut AfD’s recent victories.

Between the influx of refugees and financial instability in Europe, Germany must deal with a volatile mix fueling far-right groups that are fomenting antisemitic and anti-refugee views, all while the country struggles to halt a wave of vicious hate crimes and hold perpetrators accountable. In 2015 alone, 1,005 attacks on refugee shelters—901 by far-right extremists—were recorded in Germany.

There are legitimate fears on both sides of the Atlantic that the rise of the far right in Europe will corrode respect for the fundamental principles of democracy, human rights, and protection of minorities on which the European Union was founded, and the transatlantic alliance is based. Roundly criticized for their antisemitic, islamophobic, xenophobic, and racist rhetoric and policy proposals, these groups have made huge gains in recent European Parliament and national elections.

Last June, far-right parties in the European Parliament announced the formation of a political group called the Europe of Nations and Freedoms (ENL) Group under the leadership of the National Front.  AfD may now join such a group after being kicked out of the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) Group for their rhetoric about shooting refugees crossing into Germany.

The spokesperson for the German government said it “will continue to pursue its refugee policy with all its might both at home and abroad.” The United States should do all it can to ensure that Germany has the strength to carry out this promise and counter the forces of hatred and xenophobia.

For more information see Human Rights First’s fact sheets on the rise of the far-right in Germany and the European Parliament, and the organization’s recent report on France.

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Published on March 16, 2016

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