A protester shouts slogans during the right-wing AfD Alternative for Germany political party demonstration Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Long Reads

Germany’s Populism Amid Prosperity

Even though Germany has gone from being the “sick man of Europe” to its strongest economy in just a generation, the country has not been immune to right-wing populism. To understand why chauvinist forces are resurgent, one must turn not to political science or economics, but to history.

MUNICH – Populism is associated in many people’s minds with job displacement, import competition, and other byproducts of globalization. So how does one account for Germany’s remarkable economic performance and the simultaneous rise of populism there? At first glance, these two phenomena seem incompatible. But the past – and not necessarily the recent past – holds clues to understanding how populism and prosperity can exist side by side.

In the 1990s, Germany was widely regarded as “the sick man of Europe.” After the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of East and West Germany, the German economy seemed to be in the doldrums. It was as if the sclerosis of the former communist state had spread to the wider German economy.

Two decades later, Germany is Europe’s economic powerhouse once again. Unemployment fell from nearly 13% to 6.1% between 2005 and 2016, and the country is now one of the world’s leading exporters – accounting for around 8% of total global exports.

To continue reading, please subscribe to On Point.

To access On Point or our archived content, log in or register now now and read two On Point articles for free and 2 archived contents. For unlimited access to the unrivaled analysis of On Point and archived contents, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in


Handpicked to read next

  1. National flags of world countries around Earth globe Getty Images

    Reclaiming Multilateralism

    The time when the World Bank, IMF, and other international institutions could focus solely on technical, financial, and economic issues is over. An era of nationalist resurgence demands a broader, more humanistic form of international engagement.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.