Populist Leader Aims 'To Change Political Situation' In Germany — And Europe : Parallels Frauke Petry's Alternative for Germany party enjoys the most support of any nationalist faction in that country since World War II. Its counterparts in Europe are also seeing surges in support.
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Populist Leader Aims 'To Change Political Situation' In Germany — And Europe

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Populist Leader Aims 'To Change Political Situation' In Germany — And Europe

Populist Leader Aims 'To Change Political Situation' In Germany — And Europe

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And of course, Donald Trump's rise in this country has been connected by some to a global trend. In Europe, frustrations with the political elite, concerns about immigration have strengthened right-wing, populist leaders. And this week, we're touring around Europe, getting to know some of those leaders. Today, to Germany.

A 4-year-old nationalist party called Alternative for Germany, or AFD, using the German initials, is expected to do well in this fall's parliamentary elections. The party's co-chair is Frauke Petry. Like the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel, she is a scientist who grew up in the former communist East Germany. But that is where the similarities end. Petry recently sat down with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Frauke Petry likes being in charge. But she doesn't like the spotlight.

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NELSON: At a summit last weekend in the German city of Koblenz, the 41-year-old chemist shifted awkwardly on stage next to Marine Le Pen, her far-right ally from France.

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MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

NELSON: Compared to the fiery oratory of Le Pen, who riled up the crowd with predictions of a populace toppling of the EU...

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FRAUKE PETRY: (Speaking German).

NELSON: ...Petry's speech was more of a history lecture on the declining state of Europe. She's more conversational during our interview in Leipzig, arriving with her youngest child, Tobias, in tow.

PETRY: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Petry recently married a fellow party member and is pregnant with their first child, which will be her fifth. You might call it a case of practicing what you preach. Petry says more children - not more immigrants - is the way to address the country's worker shortage.

PETRY: If Germany has an aging population, it is up to Germany to decide a ways out of it.

NELSON: She quotes Machiavelli to explain why taking in so many Muslim asylum-seekers poses a threat.

PETRY: The principles of migration have always been the same. It's a question of period of time, process and numbers. And if migration population, in the long run, numbers out the ethnic population of this country, the country will disappear. It will change dramatically. And that's what we see when we talk about illegal migration today in Germany, in Europe.

NELSON: Petry says she completely rejects Chancellor Angela Merkel's claim that Islam belongs to Germany.

PETRY: If you talk about the religious differences, we do have serious problems with Islam. And it's much easier to integrate someone from France or from Poland, from Spain, from Britain or from wherever in Europe into a European culture like the German culture than someone from a Middle East country. I think that's obvious.

NELSON: The fear of German extinction is something AFD has successfully used in every local election in recent years to win seats in German state legislatures. It's not how the controversial party started out, explains Martin Kroh of the German Economic Research Institute. He says business leaders and academics who opposed German bailouts of the Eurozone founded AFD in 2013. A short while later, Petry and her allies took over.

MARTIN KROH: So the party changed from this moderate, economic euroskepticism to more right-wing, populist statements and also anti-immigrant positions and also being more conservative on family policies.

NELSON: A recent poll on German voters' choices in the parliamentary election this September shows nearly 15 percent plan to cast ballots for Alternative for Germany. Many of those votes are shifting from Merkel's political party. Its approval rating has shrunk to the low 30s. And if the decline continues, Merkel will have a hard time forming a new coalition government. Her political allies are worried enough to have taken stances against migrants in the European Union that sound a lot like what AFD says. Petry smiles when asked about it.

PETRY: These ideas have already been there for quite a while. But they were called racist or xenophobic or something else. In fact, we have a situation right now in Germany where politicians of all the other parties realize that all the so-called solutions up to now haven't worked.

NELSON: Still, Petry is pushing her party to tone it down, especially when it comes to anti-Semitism. Her party is considering ejecting one of its officials, Bjorn Hocke, for recently condemning the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Meanwhile, Le Pen and other populist leaders are calling on Petry to be the next German chancellor. But she isn't prepared to talk about a run.

PETRY: Our party has to enter the German Parliament first of all. And I'm willing and my party's willing to change the political situation in Germany and in Europe. Anything else apart from that is way too early to discuss.

NELSON: In any event, she'll likely need a parliamentary majority to become chancellor because, so far, the mainstream political parties refuse to partner with Petry or her faction.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Leipzig.

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