German leader confident that a surging far-right party will shrink again before the next election

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during his annual summer press conference in Berlin, Germany, Friday, July 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed optimism Friday that support for a far-right party which has been surging in the polls lately will shrink to previous levels again by the time of the next national election in 2025.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party received 10.3% of the vote in the last national election in 2021 — a slight decline from 2017, when it got 12.6% in the wake of an influx of migrants to Europe. Recent polls have shown support for the party, known by its German acronym AfD, at around 20% and ahead of Scholz's center-left Social Democrats.

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“I'm quite confident that AfD won't perform much differently at the next federal election than it did at the last,” Scholz told reporters at his annual summer news conference in Berlin.

The German leader said his strategy to achieve this is to pursue policies “that give citizens enough reasons to believe in a good future" — including by showing that the country is in control of its borders and can curb irregular migration.

Scholz also appealed to mainstream parties in Germany's 16 states to keep the consequences of their rivalry in mind. Some of those regions will hold state votes this year and in 2024 that are seen as key bellwethers for the next national election.

He argued that the “democratic parties” and their supporters make up a broad majority in every state and that there has been no "normalization” of far-right ideology in mainstream society.

Aside from fears about growing migration, AfD has benefitted from skepticism in parts of the electorate about the government's plans to tackle climate change and Germany's military aid to Ukraine. The German domestic intelligence agency recently warned that anti-war views and climate disinformation are partly spread by Russia-backed channels and pro-Moscow influencers.

Scholz insisted that the gradual increase in support Germany is providing Ukraine — which includes 17 billion euros ($19 billion) worth of arms such as high-end Leopard 2 tanks and advanced air-defense systems — enjoys mainstream backing: “Acting carefully, coordinating with friends and allies, not going it alone and always considering carefully whether the next step is right.”

On climate change, he played down the recent dilution of a bill on replacing fossil fuel heating in millions of German homes following strong pushback from the opposition, tabloid media and even members of his own three-party coalition.

Scholz admitted he wasn't happy with months of bickering over the bill between his junior governing partners, the libertarian Free Democratic Party and the environmentalist Greens, but made clear he could live with the compromise, which still needs to be passed by parliament.

“I’m in favor of letting things slide sometimes,” he said.

Germany has seen increasingly bitter public debates lately on issues such as the heating bill, calls to introduce a universal speed limit and restricting short-haul flights, even as it marks the second anniversary of deadly summer floods that experts say will become more frequent as the planet warms.

Scholz said those measures were “small fry” compared with other steps his government has taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Europe's biggest economy, from ramping up wind and solar power to signing deals for hydrogen imports to fuel energy-intensive industries.

The 65-year-old, who took office in late 2021, also made clear that he expects to hold the reins in Berlin for some time.

“I'm at the beginning of my work as chancellor,” he said.

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