AfD seeks to reboot migrant fears: "Germany First!"
The lead candidates of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland, are not to be envied at the moment. Not only are the right-wing populists going through a two-year low in opinion polls, but public concern about migrants and refugees – the party's only winning issue – is also on the wane.
That was no doubt one reason why Weidel began a recent press conference by describing a nightmare scenario of millions of migrants from Africa pouring into Germany in the years to come, with each one costing the country some 75,000 euros ($88,000) a year.
The number of migrants arriving in Germany fell dramatically in 2016 to only around 280,000, down from 890,000 in 2015. In 2017 those figures have declined even further. But Weidel said that migration was set to rise again and accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of having no plan to deal with the issue.
"From our perspective, the government's policies offer no long-term, sustainable solutions and ideas for these problems at all," Weidel said. "There's a lot of talk, particularly in election periods. But absolutely nothing gets done."
The AfD used the press conference to present its own ideas for asylum and development aid. Its solution to what it terms the migrant "crisis" is to scrap constitutional guarantees that people who feel threatened in their homelands are able to apply for (but not necessarily receive) asylum in Germany.
The populists would also like to cancel all the money Germany currently spends on refugees and bolster development aid to foreign countries that take an active role in preventing people from coming to Germany.
In addition, they suggest that the German navy should return refugees on the Mediterranean to the countries they embarked from, regardless of whether those countries are safe. And they want the Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development to be made subordinate to a Foreign Ministry that would think solely in nationalistic terms.
"German interests must be guiding principles and not that whoever happens to be visiting here right now gets some sort of development programme," said Gauland, who later quoted U.S. President Donald Trump: "It's not always America First. Sometimes it's Germany First."
Ears closed to humanitarian concerns
The AfD would like to present their suggestions as a "humane" alternative to the current situation, where governments and NGOs have faced accusations of involuntarily encouraging human traffickers. And on the surface, the prospect of more money being devoted to development aid, particular what the AfD is calling "lighthouse projects" to encourage self sufficiency, would potentially benefit African countries as well as Germany.