A German far-right party is using a simple message to attract voters in a mining region threatened by government plans to phase out coal: jobs are more important than the environment.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s aim to wean Europe’s biggest economy off fossil fuels is the main issue in a September election in the state of Brandenburg, where the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is almost neck-and-neck with her conservatives.
“People are counting on us to stop this nonsense,” Steffen Kubitzki, an AfD candidate seeking a seat in the Brandenburg assembly, told supporters at a campaign event last month in Spremberg, a town of 23,000 near the Polish border.
“We won’t get a second chance. We will go from village to village, door to door, and tell people to vote for us,” he added, drawing applause from the 50 men and five women gathered at a restaurant in the mining town. “Jobs are on the line.”
As the migrant crisis that propelled it into the national parliament two years ago fades, the AfD has positioned itself as the only party opposed to Germany’s switch to renewable energy.
It is organizing town hall meetings with supporters and leading protests against the phase-out of fossil fuels in the 58 towns and villages that make up Brandenburg’s brown coal region of Lusatia, or Lausitz in German, south of Berlin.
Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) – who rule in a loveless coalition at the national level – are expected to lose support to the AfD on Sept. 1 in Brandenburg, one of three eastern states voting this Autumn.
The SPD, which governs Brandenburg with the far-left Die Linke, could face calls from its own ranks to quit the federal coalition with Merkel if it loses control of the state.
The AfD is expected to almost double its share of the vote in Brandenburg to around 20 percent, putting it level with the SPD and Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).
The AfD is polling on 25 percent in Saxony, where it is expected to emerge as the second-biggest party behind the CDU in an election there on the same day as in Brandenburg.
Germany’s major political parties refuse to work with the AfD, accusing some of its leaders of racism and playing down Nazi crimes.
‘COAL OR DIE OUT’
But in a region where many fear the economy will collapse without the more than 16,000 jobs dependent on coal, the AfD’s climate change scepticism seems to be winning more voters than government pledges of funds to help the Lausitz exit from fossil fuels.