JOURNAL OF GOVERNANCE AND POLITICS

JOURNAL OF GOVERNANCE AND POLITICS

SCHOOL OF GOVERNANCE AND POLITICS, MGIMO UNIVERSITY, RUSSIA

Archive

№2(5), 2019

European Political Studies

The AfD position, which kind of populism?

Comment on the speech of Mr. Linderman at the seminar “What’s the future of the European Union? A discussion on the European Parliament Elections”

Giacomo Voceri,
2nd year master’s student at MGIMO University, Moscow.

Abstract:

Gunnar Linderman is a politician of Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) and political activist and, member of the House of Representative (Abgeordnetenhaus) of Berlin since 27 October 2017. During the seminar “What’s the future of the European Union? A discussion on the European Parliament Elections” he confronted the students, professors and other guests with the political position of the political party AfD. In this brief analysis, we are going to expose the key features of his speech, trying to understand the main elements of the AfD political vision.

Main body

During the seminar on the European Parliament Elections that MGIMO hosted in the date 15-05-19, the deputy of the German State parliament of Berlin, Mr. Gunnar Linderman had the occasion to express the point of view of his political party and of the newly formed European Alliance of Peoples and Nations (EAPN).

The importance of having an Eurosceptic presence in a seminar about the internal dynamics of the EU (in this case, the parliamentary elections) has not to be underestimated since parties like Lega, AfD, and Fins party of Finland are, nowadays, inside the European Parliament and cannot be excluded from the dialogue about the prospective of the Union, especially if this dialogue is aimed at strengthening the understanding of students that are also coming from outside the EU, and never had the opportunity to listen to every bell about these matters.

Mr. Linderman explained in very clear terms the perception of one of the biggest anti-European parties and any attentive student, that has some competences in the analysis of the political communications, was surely able to understand, just listening to this political man, the key characteristics of Alternative for Deutschland methodology in the interaction with the electorate.

Those characteristics are more or less similar in all the Eurosceptic parties and movements, since they all require a simple speaking style in order to reach every kind of citizen and a constant contraposition between an entity that is perceived as generally positive (the people) and an entity that represents an enemy, in this case the European Institutions.

In this Schmidtian dialectic, the presence of an adversary is essential, but after Mr. Linderman defined his picture of the current European situation, he gave some space to a prepositive perception for what concerns the future of the EU institutions

In the speeches of this political man, the word “interaction” replaces the expression “integration "and Mr. Linderman exposed how the common European culture was the fundamental base for the creation of an economic area free of tariffs, where Europeans can freely move. Nevertheless, in his opinion this is the maximum level of political overextension we can tolerate in the old continent and the EU substantially bypass this limit. According to Mr. Linderman, any try to achieve real “Integration”, or, in other world, to merge different subjects in order to create a third entity with its own life(like already happen with the institution of the European Parliament, Commission etc.), is inevitable going to distance politics from the people.

The argument might seem simplistic, but scholars have long discussed about the ideal dimension of a democracy (Dahl, Robert A.; Tufte, Edward R., 1973) about the best form of democratic regimes (Arend Lijphart, 1984.) and about the so called “black box” neorealist theory, that focuses on analyzing which are the political actors that in a certain democratic regimes, more effectively produces the inputs that influence the decision makers.

Taking into account all those political science debates, what Mr. Linderman and his colleagues try to communicate to the mass is that the enemy (the EU) has to be deconstructed, because between every single German citizen and the European institutions, there are other 500 million people that affect the decision makers in Europe, moving them too far from the individuals that live in every single state.  According to this political man, Alternative for Deutschland is focusing on some battles like the fight against migration not because there is a political vacuum in this field and they are taking advantage of it (populism in political communication), but because they have been created inside this vacuum, they are normal citizens and don’t want to be considered  guides or a guardians of the people’s will.

  

In order to better explain the political nature of this party, we must understand that the world “Populist” has different meanings and different understandings depending on the fact we are talking about political ideology or communication strategies.

As explained before, the presence of an idealized concept of “people” in the dialectic of AfD and the contraposition between the citizens and an external enemy, makes the ideology of this party a classic example of populism.

Nevertheless, when we talk about populism in communication strategies, we have difficulties in defining this party as populist, since Alternative for Deutschland never sensibly changed its opinion in order to intercept new segments of the German electorate like the Italian Lega, for example, did. 

This distinction is important because modern populism usually presents 2 clear characteristics. Of course the political elites expose to the population an easy and understandable solution to their problems (we have troubles because of the EU) but the party leaders analyze, at the same time, the public opinion in order to constantly adapt their political proposal to the concerns of the people. If we consider, for example, both Lega and AfD, we can say that those parties have strong enemies in politics and see the “people” as a positive, united body to defend against the interest of foreign forces (EU, Migration processes etc.). Nevertheless, on one hand Lega decided to change the nature of the “people’s enemy” for archiving more political consensus (before Southern Italians, now migrants) while, on the other hand, AfD never sensibly changed its political proposal and this is the main factor that slightly mitigates the  populist characteristics of the German far-right party.

AfD is populist in a way that resembles old, doctrinal parties (description of classic populism can be found in: Pappas, T. , 10 Nov. 2019) but never embraced the new wave of populism that focuses on the calibration of political proposals according to the will of the people.

Mr. Linderman underlined this fact saying «for me it is not a problem to be populist, until I fight for what I and other normal people believe» (MGIMO seminar “What’s the future of the European Union? A discussion on the European Parliament Elections”) and we can all agree, observing the history of this party, that, despite its extremist position in the German political spectrum and it’s old fashion populism, leaders and activists of this force will keep taking coherent political choices.

References

  1. Mister Lindemann activities in the Parliament of Berlin can be found at https://www.parlament-berlin.de/de/Abgeordnete/Lindemann-Gunnar
  2. Official result of 2019 European elections: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/elections-press-kit/0/european-elections-results
  3. Dahl, Robert A.; Tufte, Edward R., “Size and Democracy”, 1973
  4. Arend Lijphart ,Democracies, “Patterns of Majoritarian & Consensus Government in Twenty-one Countries”. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.
  5. Pappas, T. , “Modern Populism: Research Advances, Conceptual and Methodological Pitfalls, and the Minimal Definition”, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, Retrieved 10 Nov. 2019
  6. MGIMO seminar “What’s the future of the European Union? A discussion on the European Parliament Elections”.