The AfD: Germany’s new opposition hampered by sloppy research and poor German
When the Alternative for Germany (AfD) rode a wave of anger at Germany’s refugee policies to win 12.6 percent of the vote in last year’s election, they promised to “hunt down” the mainstream parties. So far their record has been rather less effective.
After the Social Democrats voted to join a new coalition government with Angela Merkel on Sunday, they paved the way for the far-right AfD to become the official opposition in the Bundestag.
The AfD are the largest party in the Bundestag outside of the SPD and Merkel's Christian Union, meaning they take over the role of opposition enjoyed by Die Linke during the last parliament.
This is largely a ceremonial task - the opposition have the first right to reply to a parliamentary speech by the government. Unlike in Britain for instance, there is no shadow cabinet in Germany. But being opposition ensures more public exposure for the AfD than for the Free Democrats (FDP), the Greens and Die Linke, the other small parties in the current parliament.
Just how effective the AfD will be in the role remains to be seen. Their leader, Alexander Gauland, boisterously claimed that the AfD would “hunt down” the establishment when election results rolled in last September.
But since they first took up seats in the Bundestag a month later, their parliamentary record has displayed an often embarrassing lack of research, critics say.
Opposing politicians initially decried the “nationalist tone” of the AfD's Bundestag rhetoric. More recently, though, they have complained about poor research and the imprecise wording of their proposed legal changes.
In a recent debate on the reduction of bureaucracy for tradesmen for example, the AfD had to be instructed by other MPs that the problems they raised had already been dealt within under a law which came into force in January.
The wording of the AfD's official statements has also become a source of mirth among their opponents.
In a press release on German prostitution laws, AfD MP Martin Sichert said that the consequences of the prostitution law of 2002 were “more than sober” (he meant to say sobering). Sichert failed to mention in the press release that the law was updated in 2016 to reflect what the government itself found to be significant failings in the 2002 version.
Kay Gottschalk, deputy chair of the AfD, said that some of the complaints were a strategy by the other parties to humiliate them, but he conceded that there was “room for improvement”.
“Beginners are allowed to make mistakes. We still haven’t hired into all the assistant and researcher roles we have advertised,” he said.
Gottschalk claimed that it has been hard to find the right people for the roles as many candidates have dropped out, fearing what having the AfD on their CV would do for their future career prospects.