The Political Communication of German Parties during the European Elections 2019 — Did the Populists Succeed?

Examination of the Political Communication of the AfD

Lana Bambetova,
3rd year Political Sciences, Free University Berlin
Exchange Student MGIMO University


This paper is aiming to inform about the major German parties and their election program during the European Elections 2019. There will be a short summary of the main party programs and which objectives and targets they put into focus. In this context, the present work examines whether and to what extent political actors within the party managed to succeed in their communication, taking the AfD as an exemplary case. The basic assumption is that depending on how the politicians frame issues, affects the political judgment of the public (Coombs, W. Timothy 2007.) and thus those political contents whose implementation the public considers legitimate (Völker, Daniel 2017). Accordingly, the success of party communication depends crucially on whether the viewpoint suggested by a governmental actor on a topic or event is received by the public (Matthes, Jörg 2014). Furthermore, there will be given an evaluation and forecast in which direction the political order of the German government is moving towards and in how far it will be influenced by the right-winged ideologies.

Keywords: populism, means of political communication, German party programs, effect on democracy, plurality, radicalization


Application of Situational Crisis Communication Theory, Framing Theory and methods of Political Forecasting.

Main Body

The European elections are a very unique possibility for Citizens of several countries to make a choice - across national borders, the political future of half a billion people is decided. More and more people in Europe, especially in Germany, seemed to consider the election in the year 2019 as crucially important. Furthermore, the European elections are the only election in the world where supranational votes are taken on the fate of the inhabitants of a continent.

During the European elections on May 26, 2019, a total of 1380 candidates applied for the 96 parliamentary seats allocated to the Federal Republic of Germany. 479 among them were women. There is a total of 41 political parties who were on the voting lists in Germany.

But the most important parties, which should be considered more closely are the following: CDU/CSU - biggest conservative party. CDU and CSU jointly pursue the goal of reconciling economic growth and environmental protection. Which also means stronger border controls and the extension of Frontex.

SPD, next to CDU/CSU one of Germany’s Peoples’ Parties argues for fair competition amongst the Union and a European minimum wage.   

In its European election program, the SPD focuses on social and financial issues. For example, Socialists and Democrats are seeking a framework directive on fair minimum wages. They want the minimum wage in all EU countries to be at least 60 percent of the average wage in Europe. Furthermore, they fight for minimum social security standards.[1]

The Greens put their focus mostly onto solving environmental issues. Pillars of their party program are: Connecting Europe with Green Mobility, making competition fair, and guaranteeing social security.[2]

The FDP is mostly promoting a Europe that is connected through digitalization and fewer bans on climate protection. According to the FDP, Member States should be held responsible for accumulating too much debt, therefore, they are aiming to strengthen the Euro. They have a strong focus on fiscal policies.

The Left Party, considered to be holding a rather radical position when it comes to the future of the European Union, promotes a reboot of the Union, fight for Social justice, humanism and international solidarity. According to them, one of the EU’s biggest faults includes the unjust market policies and democracy deficits.[3]

Finally, the AfD is criticizing the European Union in its fundamental principles. They are reproaching the EU for having dealt completely falsely with the increased migration flow and insist that climate change is nonexistent or not caused or effected by human beings. They claim to restore national sovereignty in asylum and immigration policies. Moreover, they critics the system of providing international humanitarian aid. Germany as a nation has to be made more influential and stronger, by ending the admission of migrants and rather facilitating the remigration.[4]

From the differing party programs, it can be deduced that new lines of conflict have formed causing a greater polarization of political conflicts in the run-up to the election. A Europe of integration and growth or back to nation states and protectionism? Fighting against climate change or simply denying it? These new lines of conflict also shape the new European Parliament: the democratic and Euro-critical parties of the left-wing and right-wing populist parties against the EU-friendly democratic parties of the moderate spectrum of opinion.

The case of the AfD is especially interesting and unique, when it comes to their communication, as their political output and party program differs the most in comparison to the previously presented parties. Their major form of communication can be classified as highly populist. In order to understand the method utilized by the AfD, it has to be clarified, what exactly led to this development.

Mostly, populism is caused by a lack of representation. Those who feel badly represented think and vote more populist. This especially applies to the European elections in 2019. The populists agree, however, only in their EU skepticism and criticism of democracy. In factual issues, left-wing and right-wing populist voters are even more divided than voters of established parties (Lewandowsky, M. 2016).

The AfD shows in their communication a dual character, that is quite typical for right-wing populist parties. On the one side, they are parliamentary oriented. They do want to govern and represent their voters. On the other side the party stands for a movement-oriented force, which quickly leads to populist actions (Schroeder, Wolfgang u.a. 2017). The juxtaposition of both elements accounts for a large part of their organizational strength. In this work, the main focus will be put on the political communication of the AfD. One AfD representative participated in the debate, organized on May 4th, 2019, under the title: Whats the future of the European Union - A discussion on the European Parliament Elections at the MGIMO. His articulation and communication during the debate is very exemplary for the AfD and its methods of argumentation within their election campaign and will contribute to this paper in helping to analyze the concept and method of the party, which led to their success in the elections.

Beforehand, it should be mentioned, that the dialogue should be held with all competing parties and political decision-makers. The prerequisite remains that they adhere to the rules of the game of democracy and the recognition to basic law and its values.

When talking about the party, there is no such thing as clear continuity. It is regularly changing appearance. But some repetition of specific patterns concerning their communication can be observed. One pattern includes the calculated provocation and the regular self-portrayal as a victim of the other already established parties. Another method is to get as much attention as possible through a specific language, aiming to feed existing fears (Ruhose, F., 2019).

For instance, the delegate mentioned the unwillingness of established parties to debate and cooperate with the AfD, which means that it is the fault of the main parties, that there is a stagnation in many fields of politics as they simply refuse to work together.

The AfD is doing a good job in communicating such information, combined with their goals towards the electorates. „What the populist supporter wants is the problems of the common man to be solved, according to their own values ([...] common sense), and they accept that this will have to be done by a remarkable leader. “(Mudde, Cas 2004).

Not only did their results in the elections (11 seats in Parliament) proved them to be effective, but furthermore the support and growth of their party is inexorable. Regarding the populist political communication, AfD is often talking about uniting people by acting in their will. The central concept of the AfD’s populist ideology is „the people “, whose sovereignty is conceived as the foundation for the power of the populists. Their populism according to Mudde’s definition is characterized by its anti-establishment rhetoric and the idea that the major parties failed to fulfill their duties in serving the people, thus they feel betrayed by the ruling elite. The AfD poses as the only legitimate alternative or representative of this people (Mudde, C. and Kaltwasser, C.R., 2012). They claim the ability of the people to form a unified will, and only they represent this will exclusively. Any opposition to it is depicted as illegitimate. Despite their ideological concept of peoples will, right-wing populists are usually not offering a substantial party program on social and economic affairs (Lochocki, T. 2015). This leads to making it very difficult to deal seriously with their content. However, electoral successes proves that the party is addressing issues, which do concern a vast share of people and they manage to building a opposition by bringing up controversial questions.

The party is criticized for being an enemy to democracy, as they undermine a plurality of norms and values found in the constitution. Still, it can be argued the opposite, that the AfD is the best example, proving how strong Germany’s democracy can be.

Alexander Hauser for instance brings up the strain of arguments, that the party is simply a symptom of the current democratic trends. They mirror the failure of the incumbent government to portray the different flows and tendencies of critical topics within the public opinion (Häusler, Alexander, Horst Teubert, and Rainer Roeser. 2016).

The political status quo in Germany has not changed over the last years. Over the last years, the people’s parties, CDU and SPD, adapted to each other. The loss of a strong opposition and the democratic culture of debate died, giving ground to the rise of populism. Democracy cannot be kept alive without a plurality of opinion. The answer for this agonal movement was the AfD. Their name indicates that they want to be the alternative to the existing parties and their programs. After considering this aspects, the AfD proves a very good sense in capturing the public feeling. Thus, their political communication did not only attract many voters, but they managed to pick up the ones in the society, who felt betrayed and kept to themselves by Germany’s established parties.


Populism did win in the 2019 elections. The high electoral results of the AfD prove this statement. It is a very serious observation and the wrong direction the modern democracy is moving towards. In spite of the fact, how successful AfD’s political communication was or is, their content remains xenophobic and ultra conservative. They are influenced by the "New Right" which is leading to the further adoption of well-known ideological right winged thinking.

The AfD’s embracement of competitive populism and its success in political communication demonstrate that a party attempting to address those left behind and thus trying to create a society with an unequal social structure can lead to success. The regulatory framework AfD made use of, is a system where competitive order carefully produces inequality. Furthermore, this is dividing the population and not uniting the people as the party is claiming it. Right-wing populism attempts to create a social hierarchy: The AfD intends to connect the differentiation of nation, race, religion and culture and, thus, arm themselves with apparently objective arguments to cast certain social, cultural, ethnic or religious groups as superior or inferior.

With the adoption of this principles by right-wing populists, the political order is about to be radicalized in the sense that we will probably see a stricter application of AfD’s political communication and its argumentative principles in the future, combined with an even deeper influence they will cast on the state. With right-wing populists in power (for instance, as a party in a coalition government), the political order in German would take an authoritarian turn, because according to the thinking of the AfD, the alternatives to this approach will be ruled out and their suggestion be suppressed as an attempt to undermine the well-being of the population who voted for them.


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