The AfD has been steadily gaining ground in recent months in the polls – and according to the latest ARD "Deutschlandtrend" is the second strongest force, on a par with the SPD. What is Friedrich Merz's responsibility? © Screenshot ARD/Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance/dpa (Montage/as)
The AfD is the second strongest force in the polls – how could that happen? The CDU/CSU, including CDU leader Friedrich Merz, also plays a role.
Frankfurt – If the Bundestag elections were held on Sunday, almost one in five votes would go to the AfD. According to the current ARD Germany trend, the right-wing populists are at 18 percent, and in an Insa poll even at 19 percent. On a par with the chancellor's party, the SPD, and well ahead of the Greens. The CDU/CSU is currently clearly the most popular with 27 and 29 percent respectively. But the current AfD's soaring popularity is also a defeat for the CDU, especially for CDU leader Friedrich Merz.
Merz once wanted to cut the AfD in half
Five years ago, Merz ambitiously said he wanted to "halve" the AfD's approval ratings. At that time, he applied for the party chairmanship and Merkel's successor. The AfD was at around 15 percent. Merz was unable to keep this promise. Parts of his party are now shifting the responsibility for this onto the CDU/CSU's favorite culprit: the traffic light.
CDU General Secretary Mario Czaja attributed the AfD's success to the "leaderless chaos policy" of the federal government, as he told the newspapers of the Funke media group. Philipp Amthor also blames the "grotto bad government" in the broadcaster Welt.
In fact, a majority of the population is critical of the traffic light work. Satisfaction with the Scholz government recently even fell to an all-time low. But the role of the Union could also be questioned. CDU politician Norbert Röttgen – once Merz's opponent for the party chairmanship – appealed for more self-criticism. The Union should ask itself "why we practically do not benefit from such great dissatisfaction with the government." But the conservatives could also ask themselves to what extent they are involved in the strengthening of the AfD.
"This is how the ground is prepared for the right-wingers from which they benefit"
The upswing of the AfD had already been hinted at in recent months, so it is not only due to Robert Habeck's "heating hammer" (CDU formulation). There is also the question of the extent to which the Union has made the AfD socially acceptable - for example, by establishing "AfD-speak" à la "Paschas" (Merz) or "asylum tourism" (Söder) in the discourse.
"The so-called center opens up the space to the right by taking over parts of the positions," criticizes Ates Gürpinar, deputy leader of the Left Party. The member of the Bundestag mentions to the Frankfurter Rundschau the areas of tightening asylum laws, the first name debate in Berlin or the "completely absurd measures taken by environmental activists" and says: "This is how the ground is prepared for the right-wingers from which they benefit."
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My department, Ates Gürpinar, has been a member of the Bundestag for the Left Party since 2021. Born in Darmstadt, he is one of the party's deputy national chairmen. © IMAGO/Jean MW
How the Union makes a pact with the AfD: "Prepares the ground for the right to become stronger"
Officially, the firewall is to the right, Merz assures regularly and credibly. But it starts to crack. Especially in eastern Germany, where the AfD is the strongest force in several countries, the CDU cooperates with the AfD. For example, in the Saxon town of Bautzen, where the CDU agreed to a motion by the AfD in the district council to exclude tolerated refugees from social benefits. In 2019, two CDU deputies from Saxony-Anhalt even thought aloud about closer cooperation with the AfD. One should not rule out a coalition and could possibly "reconcile the social with the national".
Between 2019 and 2022 alone, political scientist Steven Hummel found 18 cases of cooperation between Saxony's CDU and the AfD at the municipal level. The proximity of the CDU to the AfD is also pronounced in the state parliament of Thuringia. A red-red-green minority government currently governs there. The CDU, AfD and the AfD can achieve a majority together with the AfD. This is what happened with an application against gendering or the adoption of a new gambling hall law. In the latter case, the CDU and AfD voted for a draft by the FDP, the Liberals did not accept the support of the right-wing nationalist-conservative camp for the first time. In 2021, her husband, Thomas Kemmerich, was elected prime minister with votes from the AfD and CDU.
The halving of the AfD has not succeeded with all this. Gürpinar also sees Merz as responsible. "He could have seen from the failed Söder strategy in the 2018 state elections: with right-wing slogans you win at most in the short term. In the long term, you are preparing the ground for the right to become stronger." (as)