It is a rainy, gloomy Monday afternoon in Berlin. Pitch black limousines are waiting outside of the Paul-Löbe-Haus to pick up their MPs. The political heart of Germany is beating loudly today, the offices are crowded and conferences are being held behind huge walls of glass, covered in raindrops. As I enter the German Parliamentary Society, I almost bump into the Israeli Minister of Justice – having just landed from Paris, this is quite an afternoon for me. I am punctual on the minute, very German. Mr Kahrs is welcoming me in the library and we sit down in large, pouchy leather chairs. One hour, many questions, no time to lose.

Johannes Kahrs (*1963) has been Member of the Bundestag since 1998, coming from the traditional working-class city of Hamburg, he is part of the Social Democratic fraction. Mr Kahrs is well known for his often sharp criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel, his commitment to the legalisation of homosexual marriage in Germany and for his vivid relations to the military. At this point I would like to thank Mr Kahrs for his valuable time and some great glances behind the curtains of German politics.

The Laurel: Today we want to talk about a German right-wing sector, stronger than ever in about 15 years. There is a large pool of parties, new initiatives and movements with similar opinions. The one standing out though is the AfD – Alternative für Deutschland. As a connoisseur of German politics, would you say that the AfD is an extreme right-wing party?

Kahrs: I would rather say, that they have chosen the path to becoming one. When they started in 2013, their elites consisted of Euro critics and finance professors who were worried about a disproportionate bailout of Greece. I would not mark that state of the party as right-wing. With the refugee crisis, we have seen a surreal mingling of the PEGIDA movement and the extreme sector of the AfD. Even their own chairmen complained about a drastic shift to the right. Then we saw the final split of the party, which is now led by Frauke Petry, who recently suggested the use of gun power against refugees at the German borders. Today, their number one topic is immigration policy and their argumentations are getting more extreme every week. Hate speeches against refugees and offers with seemingly simple solutions for a supposed decay of „German culture“ pull more and more indecisive and confused people into the AfD.

The Laurel: As you know, there are some federal state elections coming up on March 13th. The latest polls for Sachsen-Anhalt predict up to 17% of the votes for the AfD. Political scientists claim, this might increase the chances for an extended existence of the grand coalition, since Conservatives and Social Democrats are the only parties scoring enough votes, having excluded a coalition with a strong AfD. What is your opinion on that?

Kahrs: I think that the grand coalition is poisonous for the German political landscape on the long run. Although I would prefer it over a participation of the AfD in any government, both parties know that a grand coalition is an alliance out of convenience, not out of creed and the German people feel that. A conflictual grand coalition makes the voters question the legitimation of such a government, which damages its credibility and lastly strengthens the extremists.

The Laurel: How come your party is not more successful these days? The Social Democrats (SPD) in Sachsen-Anhalt have been overhauled by the young AfD. Why is that?

Kahrs: The SPD has not lost many voters and is still in the race for most state governments. Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge that traditional voting patterns do not apply on today’s elections anymore. 30 years ago all working-class people voted for us, today there are no such connections. Electoral success has become so much more dependent on topics, persons and locations. My party has done great things for our country in the past, but we did not care enough about our image in the meantime. However, the recent success of the AfD can be explained with a simple shift of the political middle to the left, leaving the traditional conservative spectrum uncovered.

The Laurel: Could you explain this in detail?

Kahrs: Well, for quite some years now we could watch the Conservatives (CDU) pursuing a much more left-wing course than ever in their history. In contrast to the past, the party does not offer much typically conservative anymore today. This change was definitely led by their chairwoman Dr. Merkel. The rest of the party followed her mostly because she could guarantee popularity ratings over 40%. Today, with decreasing ratings, the air is getting thinner for her. However, the key issue is that with this shift, many conservative voters feel left alone by the CDU and here is where the AfD jumps in. The only difference between the new AfD and the former CDU manifesto: the three letters above. Now, many voters argue that if they wanted a more conservative government through democratic elections, there would be no other choice than voting for the AfD. I hear that a lot from citizens in my constituency.

The Laurel: Would you say that the AfD could actually be an alternative?

Kahrs: Of course not. Their suggestions lack every sense of reality. Right now there is a huge epidemic wafting through the country – fear. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are coming to Germany, but instead of showing leadership, the government stays silent. The Chancellor proclaimed: „Wir schaffen das!“ (We can do that), but did not present any proposal on how! We do not know where we are headed to, maybe a catastrophe. This is what frightens the people, they have substantial fears about their properties and social security. Lastly, the left-wing and green voters will remain, but many of those who voted for the middle, will now vote for the right-wing because their former choice seems to neglect them – quite logical and even more tragic.

The Laurel: Last question: Some say that a permanent establishment of the AfD as the new ultraconservative party – a German FPÖ or Front National – is possible. What do you think?

Kahrs: Yes, definitely. As long as the government does not realise how necessary a clear-cut course is, the fear will reign on and play into the AfD’s hands. With the participation in more and more state governments, the prospect of a leading role on a federal level is getting brighter. Once they have achieved a certain volume of naturalness, they will have found their rather permanent place in the German political landscape. Simultaneously, if Merkel should fail at securing her position at top of the CDU, the next chairman might as well agree to a coalition together with the AfD. In that way, Merkel is somehow causing the success of the AfD, but is also the only one preventing it to go even farther.

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