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Germany’s AfD Rises to 2nd Place in E.U. Election

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The right-wing Alternative for Germany party won a record number of votes in European Union elections on Sunday, in a sharp rebuke to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing three-party coalition in Germany and a sign of the rightward political shift across the continent.

The party, known as AfD, captured 16 percent of the vote, placing second behind Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats, which won 30 percent. AfD performed nearly five percentage points better than it did in the 2019 elections and drew more voters than each of Germany’s three coalition parties. It was AfD’s strongest showing in a nationwide election, and it came as Mr. Scholz’s coalition has reached record-low levels of popularity in the country, according to polls.

On Monday, Alice Weidel, one of the AfD’s two leaders, demanded that Mr. Scholz call new parliamentary elections, just as President Emmanuel Macron of France did after his party’s dismal results. A spokesman for Mr. Scholz has ruled out early elections.

Describing her party’s showing a “major success,” Ms. Weidel said at a news conference in Berlin that the government was working against, not for, Germany. “People are tired of it,” she said.

The election results could have far-reaching consequences. Europe’s sweeping plans for a series of environmental initiatives called the Green Deal may lose traction, and adversaries of Mr. Scholz have already begun to question the legitimacy of his government. If the results of the E.U. elections are borne out, they argue, it could indicate that just a third of Germans support his three-way governing partnership.

Once a fringe group, the AfD is being watched by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency on suspicion of being “extremist.” Three-quarters of Germans say they believe that the party poses a threat to democracy. But outrage over the recent killing of a police officer in Mannheim, Germany, just days before the E.U. election, and the arrest of an Afghan immigrant suspected in the stabbing may have reignited the fears on which the AfD routinely capitalizes.

The AfD also had stronger results than in the past despite its two top candidates for E.U. posts having been forbidden to campaign after a series of public scandals. On top of that, millions of people took to the streets this year to protest the party’s anti-immigration stance, which includes a meeting attended by AfD members that discussed the mass deportation of immigrants.

“It’s remarkable that the party sort of rose again from the ashes,” said Sudha David-Wilp, regional director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund. But discontent with the government, a robust base in eastern Germany (the AfD took the lead in all five states there in the E.U. vote) and the recent attack on the officer most likely propelled AfD forward, Ms. David-Wilp said.

“They’re not disappearing anytime soon from the German political landscape,” she added.

Though the numbers fell short of the polling highs predicted months ago, when it seemed that the party might capture close to 25 percent, AfD members celebrated the results on Sunday night.

Ms. Weidel attributed the outcome to disgust with the status quo. “People are fed up with the amount of bureaucracy they get from Brussels,” she told a German public broadcaster after the first projected results were announced on Sunday night.

As the results rolled in on Sunday evening, Mr. Scholz made an appearance at his Social Democratic Party headquarters in Berlin. But when asked by reporters if he wanted to comment, he responded, “Nope,” according to the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The AfD’s fortunes seemed to have risen in concert with the fall of those of the Greens, an environmentally focused party for which Germany was once a stronghold. The Greens saw their vote share drop by nearly half, to about 12 percent, according to the preliminary results, from a high of more than 20 percent in the 2019 elections.

Emilia Fester, a Green party member of Parliament who is one of its youngest elected officials, said in an email: “Although the AfD has made gains, it is also clear that few young people have switched from us Greens to the AfD. Instead, many have voted for smaller parties that often have programs close to the Greens and are more focused on individual issues,” she said. “This gives me hope.”

This election was also the first time that 16- and 17-year-old Germans were permitted to vote, and AfD had major wins in the under-30 demographic, increasing its share of that electorate by 10 percent, results showed. The Greens, once supercharged by the activist Greta Thunberg and student protesters against climate change, saw an 18 percent drop-off of those voters.

“Younger voters tended to be more left-leaning and progressive in the past,” Florian Stoeckel, a professor of political science at the University of Exeter in England, said in an email. “However, this time, they turned right.”

He added that the AfD’s recent push to market itself on TikTok might have played a role.

“This is in line with recent findings that younger people, and especially younger men, across Europe tend to take more right-leaning positions,” Mr. Stoeckel said.

Ultimately, the results could be more of a symbolic victory for the AfD than one that will change the dynamics of the European Parliament. Last month, the party was expelled by the Identity and Democracy Party, a far-right group in the European Parliament, after Maximilian Krah, the AfD’s top E.U. candidate, made comments in May equivocating on just how evil the Nazi S.S. were.

On Monday, AfD members voted to oust Mr. Krah from its E.U. delegation. In the end, the party will send 14 people to Brussels — up from nine — whose power will be limited, excised as they are from any other far-right bloc in the Parliament.

Tatiana Firsova contributed reporting.

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