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Our partner portal “Economist”: Alice Weidel invites British magazine to office, where the paradoxical world of AfD becomes clear

From her office on the sixth floor next to the Bundestag, Alice Weidel looks to the west, over a vast area with wintery brown treetops. That is the Tiergarten, Berlin’s most famous park. In its center stands a 67-meter high column, commemorating the victory against Denmark by Prussia in 1864. At its top, Victoria, a replica of the winged goddess, adorned in golden splendor, perches, based on the former Crown Princess of Prussia, a daughter of the British Queen Victoria.

With her blonde, combed-back hair, distinctive nose, upright posture, and simple, elegant business attire, Weidel indeed appears like a queen in waiting. As co-chair of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the most right-leaning of the country’s seven major parties, her influence has steadily grown.

In 19 months, she has propelled the AfD to over 20 percent

The party, founded in 2013, adorned with the color blue, accounts for only 78 out of 736 members of the Bundestag. It does not govern any of the 16 federal states and only three small municipalities. A majority of Germans say they would never vote for them, and the other major parties have all pledged to avoid them. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has placed several district associations of the AfD under observation due to extremism.

However, in the 19 months that Mrs. Weidel has been at the helm of the party, the AfD has more than doubled its share of the national vote from 10 percent to well over 20 percent. This makes it the second most popular party in Germany, after the oppositional CDU, but ahead of all three parties in the government coalition. According to a recent poll, Mrs. Weidel is more popular than the social-democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

In the European elections in June, the AfD is expected to significantly surpass its current nine seats, thus joining a Europe-wide trend that has buoyed right-wing populists from Sweden, through the Netherlands to Italy. In September, elections will be held in the eastern German states of Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia; in all three states, the AfD is the strongest party. During the next federal elections in 2025, Mrs. Weidel and her co-chair Tino Chrupalla could indeed become a kind of republican royal duo, as kingmakers, but not as monarchs.

Alice Weidel: Paradoxical figurehead for the AfD

Despite her regal presence, the 44-year-old Weidel seems to be a paradoxical figurehead for the AfD. The party is male-dominated, with only one in nine members being female, compared to 35 percent in all other parties. Mr. Chrupalla seems to be more typical: like many AfD voters, he is from the east of Germany and proud of his working class. He embodies the resentment against the elites that has propelled the party through the turbulence of Covid-19, high inflation, and the war in Ukraine.

Mrs. Weidel comes from an affluent family in a small town in western Germany. She holds a doctorate in economics and prefers the atmosphere of a boardroom or studio to the hustle and bustle of a crowd. Her professional career before politics was steep. She worked for the global investment bank Goldman Sachs and the insurance giant Allianz before establishing a private consulting firm. She spent several yearsIn the land of China, but paid heed to the warnings that being labeled as a “China expert” could be detrimental to her career.

Ms. Weidel is openly homosexual and primarily resides in Switzerland. She and her partner, a Swiss filmmaker of Sri Lankan descent, are raising two sons aged seven and ten. Ms. Weidel states that her partner, despite holding “very, very liberal” views, strongly supported her political career, even amidst the intrusion of German media into their privacy.

An Unexpected Confession in Weidel’s Office

Sipping on a cup of green tea in her office, the co-chair of the AfD confesses that it was a challenge to publicly advocate for her political beliefs. Impressed by her anti-euro stance, she worked part-time for the party for four years before stepping into the spotlight in the 2017 federal election. Weidel represents a constituency in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg and, in 2022, assumed the party leadership alongside Chrupalla.

Aside from the press, she and her party are now under official surveillance in three federal states. “I find it truly absurd that Stasi informants read my private correspondence and listen in on my phone calls, despite being an elected opposition leader,” she says. Particularly since her “cardinal sin” is merely advocating for secure borders for Germany. “If one does not endorse open borders for everyone, they are labeled as far-right!”

According to Weidel, most of Germany’s problems can be attributed to what she believes to be a deeply irresponsible immigration policy, particularly the admission of Syrian war refugees and other migrants by Angela Merkel, who served as Chancellor from 2005 to 2021.

“I believe that politicians must highlight the negative aspects of certain Muslim population groups,” she says. “Crime rates have skyrocketed, and individuals from this cultural background, primarily Afghans followed by Iraqis and Syrians, have by far the highest crime rate.”

Weidel Also Blames Someone for the PISA Results

She also holds the immigrants responsible for Germany’s poor performance in the recent PISA study, which compares the educational levels in different countries. “The standards automatically decline when they come from a non-German linguistic, cultural, and educationally disadvantaged environment,” she says, mentioning a major brawl at a Berlin school involving boys from the Middle East.

Over a quarter of Germany’s 85 million inhabitants now have a migration background. Nevertheless, police crime statistics show that overall crime in Germany has not increased due to the heightened immigration, but rather decreased sharply between 2016 and 2021, with a slight increase in the past year.

In European public safety rankings, Germany falls inconspicuously in the middle. The share of foreigners in the student body is increasing, and they tend to perform worse in tests than native Germans.

However, the PISA results show that the differences in neighboring countries with a similar migrant proportion are less pronounced. In the United Kingdom, migrants perform better than native Britons, indicating that the issue in Germany lies more within the school system than in the ethnic origin of the students.

Weidel’s Combination of Alarmism and Accusations is Gaining Traction with More and More Germans

However, Ms. Weidel’s blend of persecution claims, alarmism, anti-immigrant insinuations, and nationalism is not only resonating with the AfD base, but also with a growing number of Germans. A sign of this is the recent shift in the stance of Merkel’s party, the CDU. In a new CDU manifesto released on December 10, the statement “Islam belongs to Germany” was replaced with the assertion that Muslims who “share German values” are welcome.

This likely pleased Ms. Weidel, although she seems to suggest that it may be too late. “Germany has already lost its guiding culture,” she sighs. She asserts that after Merkel led the country onto a path of ruin, the current left-wing coalition has further accelerated the decline. “We’ll have to see what remains of this country once they’re finished,” she remarks, placing her empty teacup back on its saucer.

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