Germany gets ready for election
When is it? Next Sunday.
Who are the contenders? Mrs Merkel and Martin Schulz of the Social Democratic Party.
Who else is running? One candidate is Christian Lindner, of the pro-free trade Free Democratic Party (FDP). Britain hopes Mr Lindner will put pressure on Germany to ensure a Brexit deal between the UK and EU.
Who is expected to win?
Germany. “I’m not trying to inflame anyone,” Mr Gauland says. “She said there is no German culture beyond the German language and I said if she feels that way she should take a long holiday somewhere she feels more comfortable.”
He rejects the foreign minister’s comparison of his party with the Nazis. “I don’t believe Sigmar Gabriel is stupid enough to really believe we are Nazis,” he said. Two weeks ago, most observers had written off the AfD’s chances in the election. Riven by infighting, the party had made what appeared to be a fatal error when it voted to marginalise Frauke Petry, its official leader widely seen as its strongest electoral asset, and entrust the campaign instead to a joint ticket of Mr Gauland and Alice Weidel, a figure little known outside the party.
Support dropped from 15 per cent last year to single figures. But judging by the AfD’s late surge in the polls, it appears Mr Gauland’s tactics are working. The party’s core issue is immigration, which plays well in Mr Gauland’s constituency of Frankfurt an der Oder where jobs are scarce.
“We don’t want to be the world’s doormat,” Mr Gauland tells the crowd. “We want our country back.” He claims to have figures showing that there will be 240million more Muslims in Europe by 2050.
Another of the party’s themes is opposition to the single currency. But Mr Gauland is no fan of Brexit: the AfD wants to reform the EU from within.
“I am not happy about Brexit,” he tells the crowd. “I would have preferred the British to stay in the EU, as a pragmatic counterweight to the Brussels bureaucracy. We want a Europe of fatherlands.”
The word Vaterland has the same historic associations in German as it does in English. While it has a German flavour, a lot of the rhetoric is familiar from recent foreign populist campaigns, and Mr Gauland tips his hat to Donald Trump. “Trump is different from other politicians, because he is actually doing what he promised,” he tells the crowd.
After the event, he acknowledges he is unlikely to be in a position to deliver on any of his own promises. “Even if we get 20, 22 per cent, we’re going to be in opposition,” he concedes. “All the other parties have said they will not go into coalition with us.”
All the same, many in Germany are wondering how well the party could do. Gero Negebauer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, said: “If you look at the polls, 40 to 46 per cent say they haven’t made up their minds, and we have no idea how the pollsters are factoring that into their calculations.
“On top of that you have the question of shy AfD voters, people who might not want to say they’re going to vote for the party in public because of the negative publicity, but who could choose it in the privacy of the voting booth.”
Given the position from which it entered the campaign, coming third would not be a defeat for the party, it would be a victory.