Scholar analyzes the rise of Euro-populism following changes in Germany’s parliament
On Sept. 24 the Alternative for Germany became the first far-right party to enter Germany’s parliament in more than half a century. Now the populist party has the potential to reshape German politics, scholar Vivien Schmidt said in a lecture on Wednesday evening.
In a talk titled “What leadership is there for Germany in the EU, faced with Rising Populism and Euro-Fatigue,” Schmidt, a professor of Political Science at Boston University, discussed her research and offered her stance on the future of Germany.
Schmidt drew parallels between how German concern with economic stability led to the rise of the Nazi party and the similar phenomenon that allowed the AfD to gain such a high number of seats in parliament.
“What lessons do we retain from the past in Germany? 1923: Inflation is terrible, millions of Deutsche Mark, wheelbarrows of money, of many in order to buy one loaf of bread,” said Schmidt.
She argued that it has become a cultural phenomenon in Germany to prioritize economic stability, often to the point where Germans lose sight of other values. “No one remembers in Germany that in 1931 massive levels deflation and high levels of unemployment allowed the Nazis [to] come to power,” said Schmidt. “That’s what they should have been thinking about rather than being obsessed about inflation.”
Schmidt compared the rise of the Nazi party to that of the AfD. The AfD was formed in 2013 by conservatives who were displeased with the decision made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to bailout Greece using taxpayer money. The bailout came as a result of attempts to end the Greek Depression, which began nearly a decade ago and has left Greece with a broken economy.
When it comes to the refugee crisis, however, Schmidt argued that there the lessons of history were learned.
“Angela Merkel on her own decides that we’re going to let in a million Syrian refugees because that’s what’s right. If you look at the German response it was overwhelming, initially. This has to do with culture, history, a different lesson learned from history,” Schmidt said.
However, public opinion has begun to shift in recent years in part because of events like the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, in which up to 1,000 men of “Arab or North African appearance,” allegedly sexually assaulted women at the city’s central railway station, according to city Police Chief Wolfgang Albers. Combined with the arrival of the one million immigrants in Germany and the Berlin terror attacks in 2016, the AfD shifted its focus from a party with largely financial concerns to the populist, anti-immigrant, nationalist party of today.
“They had initially focused on the euro — it was just a bunch of economics professors — but what you get is a shift and it moves into extreme right, anti-immigrant party,” explained Schmidt.
The end of the presentation was followed by an exchange between Schmidt and the audience, many of them members of the Waltham community, about solutions to rising concerns about immigrants in Germany and their impact on politics.
Karl Knoblauch, a Waltham resident and frequent attendee of Brandeis lectures, offered a solution that would involve giving funds from the Value Added Tax, a consumption tax which acts like a sales tax collected at each stage of production, as payment to European countries that agree to take in immigrants.
“Find pots of money to form solidarity funds,” said Knoblauch.
Schmidt is the Jean Monnet Chair of European Integration and Professor of International Relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.
Her research focuses on the European political economy and democracy as well as political theory, on which she has published several books.
In 2015, the European Parliament named her book, “Democracy in Europe” as one of the “100 books on Europe to Remember.”