Imagine if Nigel Farage declared that police should be ready to shoot migrants trying to make it from Calais to Britain; saying: ‘I don’t want to do this, but the use of armed force is there as a last resort.’ And imagine that in spite of this — or perhaps because of it — Ukip were to overtake the Labour party in a national poll to become the most popular opposition party. This, in effect, is what is happening in Germany.
The words above were spoken by Frauke Petry, leader of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the insurgent party which is threatening to make large gains in state elections in three key German regions next month. A poll for the newspaper Bild, held after Petry made her remarks at the end of January, put the party ahead of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left. It is now poised for a series of triumphs in the state-assembly elections.
While the possibility of Brexit dominates the news in Britain, a bigger story is brewing in Europe: the EU’s ideal of free movement is collapsing under the weight of political reality. An inability to respond to this crisis is sending millions of voters to extremists, now on the march across the continent. By the time David Cameron’s four-month campaign for Britain to stay in the EU ends, it may be overtaken by events.
The AfD is similar to Ukip, but its rise has been much swifter. It was founded by academics during the euro crisis three years ago. Last year its Eurosceptic founders were ousted and it evolved into more of an anti-immigration party.
In Germany the political climate is incendiary. Here, we fret over the colour of the front doors of the houses in which asylum-seekers are housed.