In many European countries, right-wing populists like to pretend to be civilians. The right-wing populist AfD also uses this term – and sees itself confirmed by the events in Thuringia. Bernd Riegert analyzes.

The MEP and head of the right-wing populist AfD, Jörg Meuthen, was pleased about the surprising election result in Thuringia yesterday. For the first time on Wednesday, a prime minister in a German state was put into office with the help of the AfD. Meuthen told the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” that his party, the Christian Democrats from the CDU and the liberal FDP now formed a “bourgeois circle”. In the meantime, the elected FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich has announced his retreat, but the AfD’s success remains in penetrating the “bourgeois camp”.

The left MEP Martin Schirdewan flagged the short-term cooperation between CDU, FDP and AfD as “breaking the taboo”. For right-wing populists in Europe, who are now the fourth largest parliamentary group in the European Parliament, Thuringia is another breakthrough, another building block, a symptom of an EU-wide trend that has been ongoing for years.

In numerous countries, right-wing populists are involved in the government, form the strongest opposition group, or have sustainably weakened the established parties. Germany was rather the exception until this Wednesday. There have also been setbacks for right-wing populists in Austria and Italy in recent months. Thuringia should give the AfD and with it the “Identity and Democracy” (ID) parliamentary group in the European Parliament a little boost. In addition to the AfD, the Lega of the Italian right-wing radical Matteo Salvini, the scandal-shaken FPÖ from Austria and the French “National Collection” of right-wing populist Marine Le Pen are also represented in the group.

Germany l protests after the election of the prime minister in Thuringia l in Weimar (picture alliance / dpa / J. Krey)Protest against AfD votes in the election of Prime Minister Kemmerich in Weimar, Thuringia.

Right has long been normal in Austria

In Austria, the FPÖ was involved in the government several times at federal level. The once Christian Democratic ÖVP has moved to FPÖ positions under the “flexible” boss Sebastian Kurz and has virtually embraced this party. The FPÖ was represented in the state government in some Austrian states. There was even a coalition with the Social Democrats in Burgenland until the FPÖ “Ibizia” scandal last year. FPÖ chief Strache had wanted to sell his political services to a supposed Russian oligarch daughter on Ibizia. That was revealed by a secretly filmed video. The FPÖ flew out of the government in Vienna. The FPÖ parliamentary leader in the Austrian parliament, Herbert Kickl, immediately joined his party friends from the AfD in Thuringia and said on Friday that it was a ”

Austria's Vice Chancellor Strache before leaving (picture-alliance / dpa / APA / K. Techt)Governable again long ago: FPÖ Vice Chancellor Strache (right) in May 2019, shortly before his resignation

No inhibitions in Italy

In Italy, the borders between Christian Democrats, Conservatives and right-wing radicals have long since fallen. The conservative national “Forza” by Silvio Berlusconi works very openly with the right-wing populists from the Lega and the neo-Nazis from the “Fratelli d’Italia”. In the next election, the three parties want to defeat the left-wing camp of 5-star populists and social democrats as the right-wing electoral alliance. Matteo Salvinis Lega has already ruled in Rome as Interior Minister and Junior Partner. He continues to be very popular, even though he recently narrowly lost the regional elections in Emilia Romagna. The “taboo break” happened in Italy many years ago. Cities, municipalities and entire regions in northern Italy are ruled by right-wing populists. There is no fear of contact.

Italy Salvini leads anti-government demonstration in Rome (picture-alliance / AP Photo / A. Medichini)No fear of contact in Italy: Conservative Berlusconi (left), neo-fascist Meloni (middle), right-wing populist Salvini (right)

Strong right-wing populists

In France, the right-wing populist “National Collection” under Marine Le Pen is preparing to do well in the local elections in March. Le Pen, who washed the former “National Front” softly in “National Collection” two years ago, has long penetrated deep into the conservative bourgeois camp. The former conservative parties have shrunk to marginalized groups and are at odds with each other. Marine Le Pen wants to take power through France’s city halls at national level. Politicians of the “National Collection” already rule locally and regionally. Le Pen wants to become president in 2022 and compete against the liberal incumbent Emmanuel Macron. Macron had beaten Le Pen in the runoff three years ago. According to an opinion poll last fall, Le Pen would finish just ahead of Macron. An election like in the Thuringian state parliament would no longer shock anyone in France.

In Spain, the conservatives and the right-wing populist Vox in the state of Andalusia are working together in a coalition. At the national level, Vox is now the third strongest force and continues to advance into the middle class. In the Netherlands, two liberal right-wing populist parties are behind the liberal prime minister Mark Rutte. In Belgium, which has had no government for 14 months, the right-wing nationalist Flemish of “Vlams Belang” would become the strongest party today. In Finland, the right-wing populists are only a few tenths of a percentage point behind the Social Democrats. You were already involved in the government. The list goes on. Nationalists and populists rule with large majorities in Switzerland, Poland and Hungary. The “bourgeois-liberal”

Is Germany moving?

So now Germany? The AfD, which started as a eurosceptic party in the financial crisis and then continued to develop to the right as an anti-migration party, is already the largest opposition party in the Bundestag. Government participation in a federal state like Thuringia still seems to be an “industrial accident” that the CDU and the FDP want to get rid of. In the meantime, the prime minister is at the mercy of the AfD to dissolve the state parliament and to hold new elections.

In the long term, however, it could be that Germany will also follow the trend in Europe. The big people’s parties shrink or disappear entirely. The edges, especially the right edge, strengthen. Setbacks like those in Austria or Italy slow down the development, but hardly stop it.


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