Far-Right German Group Sees Last-Minute Bump In Polls Before Sunday's Election

Sep 23, 2017
Originally published on September 23, 2017 7:22 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Germany holds its Parliamentary elections tomorrow. And if polls are correct, it seems Angela Merkel is heading for an easy victory. It would be Merkel's fourth term as chancellor. But as usual in Germany, she will have to find allies to form a coalition government. Although they won't be part of it, it is likely she will have to contend with a new factor in German politics, AfD, a group of right-wing populists who are expected to enter the German Parliament for the first time.

We wanted to hear more about all of this, so I'm joined now in studio by Simon Schuetz. He's a political reporter with Germany's newspaper Bild. It is the most-read newspaper in Germany, but he's actually on a fellowship which brought him to NPR. Simon, thank you so much for speaking with us.

SIMON SCHUETZ, BYLINE: Hi, Michel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So why do Germans like her so much? Even after 12 years, they would like her to return as chancellor for another term.

SCHUETZ: Well, I think it is because elections are to a certain degree about stability and trust. And Merkel, within her three terms that she had already, has had a lot of crisis going on domestically and internationally. And she has steered Germany successfully through these times of crisis. Also, the people are doing well. The economy is growing. Employment rate is on an all-time high. So what can you attack her for? That was one of the biggest problems her main challenger, Martin Schulz from the Social Democrats, had.

But at the same time, the third term has been the most challenging for her so far because, you know, during the migration crisis, her popularity has dropped tremendously. Merkel, when she announced that she was running again, she said, well, this will be the hardest campaign I ever had. Because she knew that she would be attacked from the far right, from the extreme right, on this topic.

MARTIN: So talk to me, if you would, about this party, the AfD or Alternative For Germany. Tell me a little bit about their platform.

SCHUETZ: Well, you have to know that originally, when they started in 2013, they were not what they are now. They were more a party that was against the euro. They were saying Germany has to step out of the eurozone. But then during the migration crisis, they found a new topic. They say that we have to close our borders. They say that we have to limit on immigration. They say we have to deport more people. They want to ban the headscarf out of the German public spaces. And also, some of them are openly racist.

One of their leaders, Alexander Gauland, recently said that we should be proud of our soldiers and what they have achieved during the two world wars. And I think now for the first time, if you believe the polls, they will enter the Parliament. And if Merkel will form an other government with the Social Democrats, another coalition, they will even be leading the opposition, the AfD.

MARTIN: Well, Simon, before we let you go, does tomorrow's election have any impact on U.S.-German relations?

SCHUETZ: Well, if Trump looks at Germany, there are two topics that are really important to him. One is the defense spending and the other one is the trade surplus that Germany is having. And for him, I think it's better when Merkel is re-elected because she at least agreed on increasing the defense spending, whereas her opponent, Martin Schulz, always said, no way, I am not going to increase defense spending.

And then in general, I think we have seen that Merkel and Trump disagree on a lot of topics like trade, like climate. But at the same time, they have to work on certain topics together like fighting terrorism, stabilizing Afghanistan and that kind of stuff. So I think even if Merkel might not get along personally that well with him, she is a true believer in the transatlantic partnership. She likes America, so she will do everything to keep this partnership going.

MARTIN: That's Simon Schuetz. He's a political reporter for Germany's most-read newspaper, Bild. And he is currently serving an Arthur Burns fellowship which has brought him to NPR. He was kind enough to join us in our studios. Simon, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SCHUETZ: Thank you so much, Michel.

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