Chancellor Merkel has given up German sovereignty - right-wing party leader
This week, the United Kingdom will vote on whether the nation should leave the European Union - the discussion coming on heels of intensifying displeasure with the way Brussels handles the waves of immigrants and financial troubles besieging Europe. Right-wing parties are on the rise all across the European Union, and even in Germany the support for the AFD - the right-wing Alternative for Germany party - is rapidly growing despite resistance from political establishment. What started as an anti-euro movement is now branded as "anti-immigrant" and "anti-Islam" - but what's behind these accusations and what's behind its growing popularity? We ask the leader of the AFD; Dr. Frauke Petry is on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Frauke Petry, leader of the Alternative for Germany political party, welcome to the show, it's great to have you with us. Dr. Petry, the German army is working on a new doctrine, called the Bundeswehr’s White Paper. Die Welt reported that Russia will be designated as an adversary for Germany in the new document, although the German Defence Minister has not confirmed that. She called Moscow a "challenge" instead. Portraying Russia as a challenge or an adversary to Germany instead of the priority partner - which it used to be for a long time - so who benefits from that and how?
Frauke Petry: You see, we think this sort of a change in behaviour of the German Federal government is something that concerns us, as a new political party, very much, because we think that Germany's task, Germany's issue, not only with Russia but with the European community, not with the US, is to function as a balancing partner. We still think that Russia should be regarded and treated as a priority partner and it should be Germany moving that sort of relationship forward.
SS: So, who benefits from this? Who benefits from labeling Russia a "challenge" or an "adversary" instead of a "priority partner"?
FP: Well, I can tell you who's definitely not benefiting and that's going to be Germany. You see, I don't want to go into detail on who's going to benefit from that, but I think that having a strategy like that in the EU is something that is going to damage, overall, our relationship with Russia, and that is why we do not agree with that.
SS: So, can tensions between Moscow and NATO ease as the block increases its troops' presence on the Russia's western border, which Berlin is also contributing too?
FP: Well, of course it is, and we also see that with a lot of concern: NATO troops on the western border of Russia - we don't think that this is going to contribute to a positive relationship, and therefore we warn German citizens and we also warn German government not to continue with a strategy like that.
SS: You know, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to ease economic sanctions against Russia. Now, both chambers of the French Parliament, for example, have recently recommended its government to end the sanctions. Can politicians inside Germany put real pressure on their government to start dismantling these sanctions? How does it work in your country?
FP: We are constantly trying to do that. So, the AFD was the only German party right from the start asking to end sanctions against Russia, and we see, over the last couple of weeks and months that some of the government politicians start to follow. For example, also, the Saxony PM Tillich, he asked now to do the same thing and he also went to Moscow to visit Vladimir Putin. It's all too slow, that's what we think in the Alternative for Germany, but, obviously, even the EU politicians now realize that these sanctions damage the relationship between Russia and Germany much more than they thought they would.
SS: But, damaging is one thing, but also, I think, the French realized that their economy is being partially damaged as well, that's why they are pushing forward with it. What about Germany? Can you take real measures to actually pressure the government to start dismantling the sanctions?
FP: We can calculate the degrees in economic growth in German and economists reckon that with the sanctions against Russia we losing something about 1% of our economic growth This is a severe problem, especially in the East of Germany, but not only there. Whenever I go through the regions of Germany I find many people, many citizens, entrepreneurs, all sorts of small- and medium-sized companies who tell me that they suffer from these sanctions. So, I think, that slowly but gradually this message also gets to our government, politicians - but, I think, it's getting far too slow.
SS: Now, Dr. Petry, your party, the AFD, has long been advocating restoration of ties with Russia, calling on a government to lift the current sanctions, af you've mentioned. Der Spiegel and N-TV are implying that AFD is a project of the Kremlin, Moscow's fifth column in Germany, financed by the Russian government. Are you? I mean, your party's views on relations with Russia are rather conciliatory more than anything else - is that why AFD is branded a "russian-agent"?
FP: You see, this sort of pseudo-message has been carried through official media in Germany, but it's complete rubbish. We are a democratic German party and we're financed according to German party rules, and of course, we're not financed by the Kremlin, we've never been.
SS: Let's talk a bit about your party. It's super-controversial, it's talked about a lot. Now, the AFD made significant gains recently in regional elections in Germany. You now have representation in half of the 16 regional parliaments. According to Deutsche Welle, Angela Merkel has said that the votes for the AFD have been a protest against the unresolved question over the refugee issue and fears regarding their immigration. Is that really the cornerstone of your success?
FP: You see, that's a rather simple conclusion of what's happening in Germany, but I can understand why Angela Merkel tries to simply put it down to the migration and the refugee crisis. I think the reasons for our continuing success has to be looked at, at a much deeper level. AFD started its political life in 2013, criticizing the failing euro currency, criticizing the EU which is not functioning properly anymore - because it's left it's very successful way of developing countries competing with each other rather than harmonizing everything, and of course, the migration crisis is just another symptom of this failing development in Europe. But, yes, Angela Merkel opened German borders for everyone who wanted to come to Germany, not distinguishing between real refugees and migrants from all over the world, especially from North Africa and, naturally the people in Germany are waking up, realizing that our Chancellor has given up the sovereignty of the country, she has given up our borders, she has given up our rules and regulations by simply letting everybody in; so, that this makes people angry, I think, is perfectly understandable and we'll see over the coming months lots of problems in education field, in the labor market, in all these places where people cannot be simply integrated into. This fairy-tale of migrants coming to Germany and being the enriching factor for the economy has been proven to be false and there are no concepts from our government on how to deal with the situation.
SS: But, okay, back to the migration policy. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel's supporters aren't happy about the way she's handling the refugee crisis. For example, her Bavarian ally Horst Seehofer is demanding a change of course. Why insist on a policy that welcomes all when your own allies aren't even supporting it?
FP: Well, this is really a question that you shouldn't ask me but you should ask Angela Merkel. Nobody seems to understand her and the very tiny steps that she's making forward, to correct some of the mistakes the government has made over the long time, will not help to ease the situation. But then, you see, Horst Seehofer is not a real danger to Angela Merkel, because he criticizes her one day but agrees on her major policies the day after. So what the CSU, the Bavarian Christian Party does, is criticize locally, but agree all over Germany. So this is not going to change the situation. Basically, Seehofer behaves as if he is an opposition within the government and this is not going to work as long in the end he doesn't stand up and actually pull his ministers, his secretaries from the government, take them back to bavaria to simply end this coalition.
SS: The AFD says that "unregulated asylum immigration harms Germany" - but that sounds like something everyone would agree with. Do you think that German government doesn't want to regulate immigration?
FP: Well, if you look at the European Union policies, if you see what the UN said the other day, that they think that the world-wide distribution of refugees from all over the place is the new strategy; if you hear about the European Commission telling us that there should be no country with its own unique population anymore, but we should all sort of face migration waves as something normal to our home countries - then I think this is not only a German policy. What you see in the EU is that 26 out of 28 European countries have nationally changed their their approach to migration and only Germany and, maybe, Greece are the two last countries that haven't faced the fact that population, citizens, simply do not want this type of migration. So, yes, I think that's the current situation and Angela Merkel is not capable, obviously, to change this way, to leave this sort of strategy of illegal migration under asylum legislation - perhaps because it's too hard to admit that she's made a fundamental mistake.
SS: Germany's state broadcaster ARD says that over 1,000 attacks against refugee shelters were registered in Germany last year. Anti-immigration violence has become a common thing in your country. Is there a danger that this type of violence cannot be contained?
FP: First of all, it's important to say that no democratic politician should tolerate any violence against anyone, and at the same time, as we see rising violence against refugee shelters, we also see rising violence from the left extremist side against all sorts of citizens, politicians, offices, and all sorts of premises. So, we do have a violence problem and I think this is just another symptom of the government not being capable to actually solve the problems, to create an atmosphere for citizens that allows us to look forward. The thing that we need is a clear analysis without any political influence on the one hand, and we need a perspective for all those people trying to get asylum in Germany, which means that we need very quick processes of deciding whether persons can stay or have to leave. Again, we have a huge problem because hundreds of thousands of persons inside Germany, within the asylum process, not knowing whether they will be allowed to stay or whether they will have to be sent back home. Sending back home is not carried out by the federal states, it's not carried out by the federal government, so we have a severe problem there, because it's very difficult to find a solution to the current situation.
SS: Now, a little more about your party, right. The AFD's attitude towards Islam is sceptical. "Islam does not belong in Germany" - it is a part of your party's platform, and, a recent poll conducted by Bild has shown that almost 2/3 of Germans share this view. That's 60% of your country's population. So, what are the 5 million German Muslims supposed to do? Leave Germany?
FP: No, not at all. You see, it's high time we carry out a thorough and a very fact-based discussion about the problems to do with radical Islam. In Germany, it's a very difficult situation of actually carrying out the discussion, because it's a very ideological problem. Of course, religion is something very emotional, everyone understands that, who belongs to a denomination, be it Christian, or be it Islam, Hindu or whatever; but we find that the rules and regulations of Sharia that are intimately connected to many Islamic movements are not compatible with German Grundgesetz (The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany), with German rules and regulations, and that's why we think we have to talk about it. We think that many Muslims in Germany actually quite like the spiritual side of their religion, but are not necessarily radical. But what they need to become aware is that in the words of their religion, in the name of their religion terrorist attacks are carried out and if you look at Islamic interpretations. you'll find that they've never gone through the period of Enlightenment like Christianity did and that is why we have to address these problems, connected to the Quran, connected to the Sharia.
SS: Do I gather correctly that you actually are against terrorism, not against Islam? These are two different things.
FP: Well... yeah. On the first sight, that may appear like that, but if you look at where Islamic terrorists stem from, how they argue what they do, you will find that you have to look into the nature of Islam, you have to look into the nature of Quran, what the Quran tells people to do and you have to look into Sharia. Even today and even representatives of Muslim groups in Germany tell us that they think that Sharia is compatible with German Grundgesetz - we clearly think that this is not the case. Look at this television study in Denmark, carried out very recently, that found out that we experience that a "compatibility" is announced in public, but what's spoken inside mosques and Quranic schools is something completely different. I think we face the similar problem in Germany and we find that Muslim behaviour of people, being very much attracted by the Quran and its sayings, actually have a problem with living and accepting that the German Grundgesetz, for example, is legislation that counts more than the Sharia. Surveys, scientific surveys actually agree on that, and that is why we cannot separate terrorism completely from the problem of radicalized Muslims.
SS: Your party is advocating a ban on minarets and headscarves in schools - why is okay for the Swiss to ban minarets and for the French to ban headscarves; but when you say it - you're labeled as an "Islamophobe"?
FP: You see, that's one question you should ask our political opponents, because we think that this discussion is absolutely necessary, and as you said, bans like that are possible in France and in Switzerland, both being democratic countries; so, we think, we should be having this discussion in Germany as well.
SS: But, here's what I'm thinking - maybe, the more you ban things like that, the more you provoke radicalism? Because, terrorism in France, for instance, has only grown ever since Sarkozy has banned headscarves in universities and schools.
FP: No, I actually don't agree on that interpretation. I think it's very necessary to make clear what are the dominating rules and regulations in our country. If we agree on the fact that many Sharia rules do not agree with our German democratic rules, then simply allowing something to exist on the side, in the parallel society, will not help the situation. Also, we find that moderate Muslims are actually quite thankful for us raising that discussion, because they feel very much - especially women, young women - imprisoned and, let's say... missing the word now - imprisoned by that sort of Sharia rules that they have to stick to at their homes. So, I think, freeing them, allowing them to live a life of independency is something that we very much want. That's something that we would like to help a lot with. This does not help if we simply let Muslim rules, Sharia rules being carried out without us even criticizing it.
SS: Alright, let's move on to Turkey. The EU forged a deal with Turkey to regulate the flow of refugees into Europe. Now, over the past few months, Turkish President Erdogan has threatened to abandon the deal, more than once, and leave Europe to deal with refugee problems on its own. Is he a reliable partner, in your opinion? Is Turkey now in a position to manipulate Europe using the refugee problem as a threat?
FP: This question is basically rhetorical, because, of course Turkey, especially Erdogan, is not a reliable partner for Germany and Europe. If you pressure your partner even before your treaty has even come into action, it's not going to help carrying it out in the long run. So, we clearly reject this sort of treaty, that so-called "Turkey deal", because we think that allowing in the refugees is one thing, and we think that Turkey should protect its borders anyway. We know of many Syrian refugees being kept in Turkey, who would very much like to go back to their home country, but aren't allowed to. We think that granting free access of Turkish citizens to Germany as a part of this deal is definitely not the right solution.
SS: You've also said that "the government refuses to take responsibility for our national borders" - now, the lack of border control in the EU exposes Europe to the threat of illegal migration and terrorism as well. Some countries are choosing to enforce their own border controls, even Germany put border checks on the crossing with Austria. Is that a viable solution?
FP: We think it's part of a viable solution. First of all, we have to admit that German border controls only function partially, whereas border controls in the south of Europe, and especially Eastern Europe, seem to function much better. We think that, yes, a system of border controls all over Europe is necessary. We think that the Schengen Treaty has failed because they only talk the advantages of not controlling borders, but never about the disadvantages. There are more disadvantages to not controlling apart from illegal migration. So, yes,we need control over the borders, and also need a change of legislation, not only in Germany, but definitely within Germany, to separate asylum law from immigration law, and we failed to do that over a long period of time.
SS: Now, the EU's unity has been challenged with a failure to produce a common response to the refugee crisis or to act together in the face of terrorism. With some of its most fundamental achievements like freedom of movement, open doors, single market under threat, is the EU itself at risk, right now?
FP: Europe has been in a crisis for quite some years, and the very obvious symptom of being in a crisis started in 2008 with the failing Euro; a development that has never actually stopped and the euro is still a failing currency - that's why we think that we should get rid of it in a controlled manner, but as quickly as possible. So, yes, Europe is in crisis and I think, understanding the crisis as the opportunity to change the direction of the European Union is what we should do. Look at the Brexit referendum in the UK, Brits will decide about leaving the EU altogether, and we think that's a clear sign of Europe having to change its overall direction. We think that we should not harmonize anymore as we've done over a couple of years, we should go back to national sovereign states, still trading with each other -the freedom of movement is something very valuable, but open doors is not the same thing as freedom of movement inside the EU - and cutting back on all those common tasks, to allow us to define a new common ground - which I think is necessary, because the EU has grown, Eastern European states have joined the EU, and I think that many interests, especially of the Eastern European states are not even looked at inside the big European Union anymore. I think it's high time for a new start.
SS: From what I gather, in the media, you're one of the most hated parties in Germany, portrayed as an existential threat. Yet, your popularity is growing among people. Are the media attacks doing any serious damage to the party? Or could all this publicity, actually, boost your ratings?
FP: You're right in a way that even a bad publicity is a publicity, but I still think that all this false information being distributed about the AFD does not help with population. Because, if you get false information, you build your picture of the whole party on the false facts, so, yes, this damages the party, that's for sure. On the other hand, politics is something that changes its color every day, if you know what I mean, and information is transferred so fast that we think that German citizens are starting to wake up and understand that many of what the public media transmits about the AFD may not be right.
SS: Dr. Petry, thank you very much for this interview. We were talking to Frauke Petry, the leader of the Alternative For Germany political party, discussing the rise of the right in Germany in light of the Eurozone and the refugee crisis. That's it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.