The German extreme right celebrates its victory over Scholz’s party

“We demand a vote of confidence and new elections,” Alice Weidel, leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, told reporters on Monday. “People have had enough.”

Germany’s far right is jubilant after defeating German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s center-left SPD into second place in the European Parliament elections with 16%.

AfD’s results are better than expected. His election campaign was hit by a series of scandals, with accusations of money laundering, Kremlin cash and espionage for China.

In the end, the AfD even had to campaign without its two main candidates, Maximilian Krah and Petr Bystron, who were being investigated for links to Russia and China.

The last straw for Krah came when he downplayed the crimes of the Nazis, reflecting that not all SS officers were criminals.

The AfD became too toxic even for French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who expelled the AfD from the right-wing European parliamentary group Identity and Democracy.

Ms Weidel clearly wants to make peace with far-right allies in Europe: to clean up the party’s image, she has excluded Mr Krah from the AfD delegation to the EU.

Party leaders describe the scandals as a “media campaign.”

Judges who rule against the AfD in court or intelligence services investigating the party are condemned for being politically motivated.

This narrative of victimization seems to have worked.

While the government’s high-minded election campaign talked about “defending democracy,” the AfD poured resources into TikTok videos, snappy slogans and simple-sounding solutions.

“We have real problems in this country that need to be resolved, rather than insulted,” AfD co-leader Tino Chrupalla said. “It doesn’t work with voters.”

You may be right. In eastern Germany, where the AfD is particularly extremist but often leads in polls, the far right won the most votes.

And the party managed to increase its share among young voters, who arguably enjoyed rebelling against Germany’s dominant norms of acceptability.

Perhaps the AfD did well, not despite the scandals, but because of them.

The ruling coalition is in crisis, trying to figure out what went wrong.

On Monday, an SPD leader called the results a “painful humiliation.”

The Conservatives are certainly pleased with their 30% lead. But given how unpopular the government is, this is not a surprising result.

They came second to the AfD in eastern Germany, where key regional elections will be held in September.

And in an election to the national parliament, these numbers would make it difficult to form a stable coalition.

The result will give CDU leader Friedrich Merz a boost as he seeks to drag his party into a more conservative post-Merkel era, and lays the groundwork for his bid to become Germany’s next chancellor next year.

But the only real winners in Germany this week are the populists.

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