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Why Is Germany’s Far Right Surging?

Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland has always been a party for those who are unhappy with the status quo, a party that opposes and criticizes, but stands for little. Today, however, it is riding high in opinion polls, its leaders hungrier for power the closer they get to it, and Germany’s political mainstream is largely to blame.

BERLIN – Over the last two years, Germany’s largest far-right party, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), has managed to consolidate the numerous splinter groups that comprise the country’s long-unsettled nationalist fringe. Defying its reputation for infighting and frequent leadership turnovers, the AfD has come to be dominated by a single figure, Björn Höcke. While Germany’s political mainstream still treats the party as a pariah, the AfD is seeking to present itself as a united force ready to take on government responsibilities.

Höcke, who heads the AfD’s branch in Germany’s eastern state of Thuringia, rose to prominence as the spiritus rector of the party’s most extremist wing, known as der Flügel (the wing). Today, this radical nationalist grouping – whose neo-Nazi rhetoric attracted the close scrutiny of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s federal intelligence agency – has been dissolved, and Höcke has become the de facto leader of an even more radical AfD.

How far to the right the AfD has shifted became evident during its recent party congress, held in the east German city of Magdeburg. Beyond addressing familiar themes, such as immigration control, Höcke offered new clues about the AfD’s agenda regarding the European Union, declaring that “this EU must die, so that the real Europe can live.”