The Alternative for Germany (AfD) is a right-wing populist party that should not be underestimated. It has nationwide appeal, including to middle class voters with higher income and education levels. Its program goes beyond opposing the euro to being “for the nation, against the political establishment.” It has right-extremist elements but is supported by up to 30 percent of voters. Its reorganization around a dominant leader will likely prevent it from self-destructing as others like it have before.
Moderate parties can best reclaim voters from the AfD by campaigning as guardians of the “German interest” with tighter asylum law and a hard line on Euro-area issues. This can strengthen the nationalist tone in domestic debates in the short term, and have negative consequences for asylum seekers in Germany and the eurozone. This is the dilemma moderate parties face with right-wing populists. In the run-up to the 2017 national elections, however, these may be unavoidable trade-offs to counter the AfD’s rise, which is necessary for Germany to be the motor of European integration.